Large Hadron Collider Finishes 2011 Proton Run

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The world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator has been busy. At 5:15 p.m. on October 30, 2011, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland reached the end of its current proton run. It came after 180 consecutive days of operation and four hundred trillion proton collisions. For the second year, the LHC team has gone beyond its operational objectives – sending more experimental data at a higher rate. But just what has it done?

When this year’s project started, its goal was to produce a surplus of data known to physicists as one inverse femtobarn. While that might seem like a science fiction term, it’s a science fact. An inverse femtobarn is a measurement of particle collision events per femtobarn – which is equal to about 70 million million collisions. The first inverse femtobarn came on June 17th, and just in time to prepare the stage for major physics conferences requiring the data be moved up to five inverse femtobarns. The incredible number of collisions was reached on October 18, 2011 and then surpassed as almost six inverse femtobarns were delivered to each of the two general-purpose experiments – ATLAS and CMS.

“At the end of this year’s proton running, the LHC is reaching cruising speed,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “To put things in context, the present data production rate is a factor of 4 million higher than in the first run in 2010 and a factor of 30 higher than at the beginning of 2011.”

But that’s not all the LHC delivered this year. This year’s proton run also shut out the accessible hiding space for the highly prized Higgs boson and supersymmetric particles. This certainly put the Standard Model of particle physics and our understanding of the primordial Universe to the test!

“It has been a remarkable and exciting year for the whole LHC scientific community, in particular for our students and post-docs from all over the world. We have made a huge number of measurements of the Standard Model and accessed unexplored territory in searches for new physics. In particular, we have constrained the Higgs particle to the light end of its possible mass range, if it exists at all,” said ATLAS Spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti. “This is where both theory and experimental data expected it would be, but it’s the hardest mass range to study.”

“Looking back at this fantastic year I have the impression of living in a sort of a dream,” said CMS Spokesperson Guido Tonelli. “We have produced tens of new measurements and constrained significantly the space available for models of new physics and the best is still to come. As we speak hundreds of young scientists are still analysing the huge amount of data accumulated so far; we’ll soon have new results and, maybe, something important to say on the Standard Model Higgs Boson.”

“We’ve got from the LHC the amount of data we dreamt of at the beginning of the year and our results are putting the Standard Model of particle physics through a very tough test ” said LHCb Spokesperson Pierluigi Campana. “So far, it has come through with flying colours, but thanks to the great performance of the LHC, we are reaching levels of sensitivity where we can see beyond the Standard Model. The researchers, especially the young ones, are experiencing great excitement, looking forward to new physics.”

Over the next few weeks, the LHC will be further refining the 2011 data set with an eye to improving our understanding of physics. And, while it’s possible we’ll learn more from current findings, look for a leap to a full 10 inverse femtobarns which may yet be possible in 2011 and projected for 2012. Right now the LHC is being prepared for four weeks of lead-ion running… an “attempt to demonstrate that large can also be agile by colliding protons with lead ions in two dedicated periods of machine development.” If this new strand of LHC operation happens, science will soon be using protons to check out the internal machinations of much heftier structures – like lead ions. This directly relates to quark-gluon plasma, the surmised primordial conglomeration of ordinary matter particles from which the Universe evolved.

“Smashing lead ions together allows us to produce and study tiny pieces of primordial soup,” said ALICE Spokesperson Paolo Giubellino, “but as any good cook will tell you, to understand a recipe fully, it’s vital to understand the ingredients, and in the case of quark-gluon plasma, this is what proton-lead ion collisions could bring.”

Original Story Source: CERN Press Release.