As a younger stronger particle smasher, the Large Hadron Collider can turn even baby steps into new records. Over this past weekend, the LHC beat another personal best--colliding its most protons yet at 10,000 particle collisions per second (about double its earlier rate). Physicists believe this is a crucial step on the collider's hunt for new physics. In November of 2009, the LHC collided its first protons as it started its quest to find the suspected mass-giving particle known as the Higgs Boson. The collider is still running at half of its designed maximum energy, but after this weekend, the number of particles per bunch traveling in the ring is just what physicists had planned. This is essential, says CERN physicist John Ellis:
"Protons are complicated particles, they've got quarks, [and other small particles], and colliding them is like colliding two garbage cans and watching carrots come out.... The more collisions we get, the closer we get to supersymmetry, dark matter, the Higgs boson and other types of new physics." [BBC]
Here are some basics: Energy: The LHC is already the worlds "most powerful" collider. Power is a measure of energy doled out over time and the LHC can collide its protons with an energy of 7 TeV (3.5 TeV per beam). Second place is the Tevatron collider at Fermi Lab near Chicago. The Tevatron can collide its particles at 2 TeV (1 TeV per beam). LHC researchers hope to get to their designed max of 14 TeV by 2013. Luminosity: When it comes to getting the goods (i.e. new physics) out of colliding protons, it's not only how much energy the particles have, but also how often you can get those particles to smack into each other. That's what physicists call luminosity. This weekend, the LHC achieved 10,000 particle collisions per second. Though the Tevatron has had higher luminosities, LHC physicists are working to beat their personal record from this weekend. Researchers at the LHC will also now work to make the weekend's number of collisions an easier feat, making higher luminosities a routine matter. Bunches and Intensity: To increase the number of collisions per second, you need a highly focused beam made of many particles traveling together (particle accelerators use magnets to steer and focus the particles in a beam). The weekend was the first time that physicists accelerated the number of particles per bunch they originally hoped for when they designed the machine: each bunch consisted of as many as 100 billion protons. LHC researchers hope to increase the number of bunches in a beam to 2,808 by 2016. Such landmark records spur the competition between the two colliders.
"It's clear that the LHC is the new boy in town, but in two years running we're going to put Fermilab out of business," operation group leader Mike Lamont told BBC News. [BBC]
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