UCR physicists assist in upgrading CERN hadron collider

Courtesy of WIkimedia Commons
Courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — the world’s most powerful particle accelerator — in Geneva, Switzerland has restarted operations for the first time in two years at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) facilities. The LHC has been upgraded to operate at nearly double the energy capacity of previous operations, going from 7 tera-electron volts to 13 tera-electron volts; the level for which it was originally designed.

UCR researchers have been involved in the design, commission and operation of several components integral to the LHC including the endcap muon chambers, one of the principal detector components. This component helped detect the Higgs-Boson, a particle that is essentially responsible for giving matter mass, which scientists have long theorized about.

The LHC is 17 miles in circumference and positioned nearly 600 feet underground. Development started in 1998 with the help of 10,000 scientists from around the globe and it commenced its first run in September 2008.

The particle accelerator works by sending proton beams at near light speed, or approximately 259 kilometers per second, around its massive ring in opposite directions so that they may smash into each other, thereby creating a massive explosion that produces clouds of subatomic particles that decay within a fraction of a second. These particle clouds and their relative data are then studied by scientists for signs of new particles.

Within its first four years, the LHC’s discovery of the Higgs-Boson had thrown the Standard Model, a mathematical theory in particle physics that was developed in the 1970s to explain the electromagnetic forces of the universe and classify all subatomic particles, into a loop.

“We’ve got this fantastic theory right now called the Standard Model,” said Robert Clare, UCR professor of physics, whose research includes experimental high-energy physics and the nature of the Higgs-Boson at the LHC. “It’s just amazing and breathtaking in its descriptions of things and it describes the outcomes of experiments to twelve orders of magnitude (.0000000000001) which is just incredible.”

There are also limitations, as Clare describes. “There are so many things that it can’t do … One of the things that we’re trying to figure out is in what ways (the standard model) is wrong, so we’re looking for things that go beyond … what our current understanding is.”

Clare and his colleagues will use the unexplainable phenomena within the context of the Standard Model to move forward in their research.

The experiments that will take place in the CERN facility within the next several years are paramount to understanding the behavior of matter in the universe, such as dark matter, a substance that does not mesh well with the current Standard Model. However, with severe austerity measures put forth by the U.S. Congress in recent years and bitter partisan fights over funding for scientific research and education, progress has been halted.

Gail Hanson, distinguished professor of physics at UCR, who is also conducting experiments at the LHC, spoke about the failed efforts to create a hadron collider in Texas that would have rivaled the one in Geneva, but was cancelled by Congress in 1993. She believes that infighting over money and the whim of Congress is “no way to do science.”

Clare’s sentiments echoed Hanson’s by touting science as a tool for unification, saying, “The standard model doesn’t care what nationality you (are). Every single person calls it a quark. Through the language of the Standard Model we all know what we’re talking about and it’s something that really unifies us.”

Other UCR faculty who will be working at CERN include J. William Gary, John Ellison, Owen Long and Stephen Wimpenny. Graduate and undergraduate work is also set to commence at CERN facilities in summer 2015. While applications for summer work internships have closed, applications will open in October for the summer 2016 CERN summer internship program for undergraduate and graduate students.

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified the speed of proton beams as 259 kilometers per hour. The correct rate is 259 kilometers per second.

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