The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is on the forefront of particle physics on the border between Switzerland and France. This massive machine, which is the largest and highest energy particle accelerator in the world, is 27 km in circumference and took 10 years to build. The reason it has been making headlines lately is because of the ‘probable’ discovery of the Higgs Boson, the ever elusive particle that explains why matter has mass. It sounds obvious to most people, but science hasn’t ever conclusively discovered the reasons for mass.
The LHC went live on 10 September 2008, with proton beams successfully circulated in the main ring of the LHC for the first time, but 9 days later a faulty electrical connection led to the rupture of a liquid helium enclosure, causing both a magnet quench and several tons of helium gas escaping with explosive force. The incident resulted in damage to over 50 superconducting magnets and their mountings, and contamination of the vacuum pipe, and delayed further operations by 14 months. On November 20th 2009 proton beams were successfully circulated again, with the first recorded proton–proton collisions occurring 3 days later at the injection energy of 450 GeV per beam. On March 30th 2010, the first collisions took place between two 3.5 TeV beams, setting a world record for the highest-energy man-made particle collisions, and the LHC began its planned research program.
The guys over at Engadget were lucky enough to be given a tour of two of the detectors of the LHC – CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) and ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment). It’s those massive rings of densely packed super-conducting magnets, tracking devices and calorimeters that truly put the search for the Higgs boson into perspective. A particle so infinitesimally small, so elusive, so completely integral to our understanding of physics that it requires a 69 x 50 x 50 ft tall (21 x 15 x 15m), 12,500-ton detector with a solenoid magnet at its heart to generate an electromagnetic field roughly 100,000 times stronger than the Earth’s own just to find it.
Check out the tour video below: