Collider physicists celebrate high-impact research launch

The ATLAS team, from left: Stewart Martin-Haugh, Valeria Bartsch, Anthony Rose, Antonella De Santo, Fabrizio Salvatore and Tina Potter. LHC image courtesy of Maximilien Brice

Physicists from the University of Sussex working on the Large Hadron Collider project are today celebrating the launch of a new phase of the biggest particle physics experiment ever constructed that will shed new light on the nature of our Universe and its birth.


The CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC), an international project based in the CERN laboratory near Geneva in Switzerland, was designed to help find answers to some of the biggest questions in particle physics by recreating conditions that exited in our Universe immediately after its formation at the time of the Big Bang.


To do this, scientists accelerate powerful beams of particles called protons around the LHC’s 27km of underground tunnel, then crash them together head-on at very high energies. In examining the products of these collisions, physicists expect to see major advances in their understanding of Supersymmetry (which predicts the existence “partners” of known particles, which have so far eluded detection), the search for Higgs Boson and even the search for extra dimensions of space.


The latest phase – the LHC First Physics programme – involves proton beams being smashed together at record high energy in the LHC – the world’s biggest and most powerful accelerator.  The launch was marked today [March 30] with a record-breaking run that saw proton beams collided at an energy of 7 trillion-electronvolts (TeV) for the first time. Protons at this energies race around the LHC accelerator ring more than 11,000 times a second, travelling at 99.99 per cent of the speed of light.


The successful collision at 7 TeV follows the circulation of two stable 3.5 TeV proton beams on March 19. With 7 TeV proton collisions firmly established, the plan is then to run continuously for a period of 18-24 months, until the experiments have collected enough data at those energies, with a short technical stop at the end of 2010. This long run will be followed by a single shutdown that will last about a year, while the LHC is prepared to collide protons at its maximum design energy of 14 TeV.


By studying the debris produced in high-energy collisions during the long-run phase, particle physicists will learn about the basic forces that have shaped our Universe since the beginning of time.


A group led by Dr Antonella De Santo in the Physics and Astronomy department at Sussex is working on the ATLAS experiment, one of the gigantic detectors taking data at the LHC. Sussex scientists are actively participating in the experiment’s running operations, contributing to its smooth functioning during data taking. They are also heavily involved in the search for supersymmetric particles at ATLAS and are eagerly looking forward to analysing the collision data that the experiment will collect over the next two years.


Supersymmetric particles might hold the key to understanding the nature of the Dark Matter that accounts for about a quarter of matter and energy in our Universe.


Dr De Santo says: “We are all very excited. We have been getting ready for high-energy collisions for a long time, refining our data analysis programmes on simulated data, and it’s just great to be able to put our algorithms to the test on real data. Working on the LHC is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we feel very lucky and proud to be part of it. It’s going to be a long and arduous trek to the top of the mountain, but I’m sure that the views will be well worth the effort!”


Notes for Editors

Follow preparations for the first collisions via live webcam at CERN




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Last updated: Tuesday, 30 March 2010