CERN Cranks Up Large Hadron Collider To Record High Energies

After four months of downtime for maintenance and modifications, the Large Hadron Collider, CERN’s newest and the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, set a record for the highest-energy collision of protons, 8 TeV. Two proton beams each at 4 TeV were accelerated to near light speed and collided, generating a shower of particles and consequently data that will take a lot of computing to evaluate. The LHC’s highest projected collision energy, 7 TeV per beam, will be reached in increments over the coming year. The LHC is thought to be the first instrument capable of producing the Higgs boson, the one remaining particle in the Standard Model of particle physics that is not known to have been observed. (Forgive the awkward sentence construction, but that is exactly the way things stand.) The Higgs particle is significant not just for completeness, but because it is thought to be the particle that gives all other massive particles their mass. (I am not the one to explain the particulars!) Confirming observations of the Higgs would be a major step in experimental confirmation of the underpinnings of current particle physics.

Let me offer my usual mini-sermon on science funding in the US. The first accelerator proposed that could have explored the fundamentals of the Standard Model at these exceptionally high energies was to have been the Superconducting Super Collider, which was to have been built in the US. As the venerable Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg put it, before its location was chosen, the SSC had the backing of 100 US Senators; after its location was chosen, it had the backing of two (2) US Senators. Of course it was never built. The notion that deep research into the workings of the universe has both intrinsic and ultimately commercial value seems to be utterly lost on most American politicians. Therefore, America will not be in the vanguard of fundamental particle physics research in this century. We can sit and watch it done at CERN (near Geneva), watch the deep discoveries done by some other nation’s scientists, watch the commercial spin-off enriching other countries, etc. We will have an important role… as spectators. You can imagine what I think of that.

I have been assured that the cyclist pictured has not been involved in any collisions…

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