The Large Hadron Collider set a new record for the creation of energetic particle beams this morning. The particle accelerator, which surpassed Fermilab’s Tevatron in December as the baddest atom smasher of them all, smashed its own record, charging particles to 3.48 trillion electron volts.
That’s three times the energy of any beam ever created by human beings and just a shade under half the LHC’s proposed maximum capabilities.
After a series of mishaps and repairs over the last year and a half, CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology Steve Myers sounded a triumphant note.
“Getting the beams to 3.5 TeV is testimony to the soundness of the LHC’s overall design, and the improvements we’ve made since the breakdown in September 2008,” Myers said in a press release. “And it’s a great credit to the patience and dedication of the LHC team.”
The LHC could allow scientists to better understand the nature of mass, dark matter and the origins of the universe. But many of them hope that instead of confirming the current set of theoretical models we have all come to know — string theory, dark energy, the Higgs-Boson, etc. — something entirely unexpected will emerge from the CERN-run experiment.
Next up for the massive experiment is to collide those beams together to create a spectacular tiny explosion that could confirm or challenge decades of theoretical predictions. By sorting through the wreckage, physicists may find particular subatomic particles that will only exist under certain theoretical scenarios. For example, the detection of certain types of supersymmetric particles, aka sparticles, could be seen as what physicist Michio Kaku calls, “signals from the 11th dimension.”
While the LHC’s beam energies are certainly impressive, raw power is just one component of the quality of the data that a particle accelerator can produce. Understanding the incredible, almost unfathomable amounts of information that result from the collisions of beams requires iterative fine-tuning and learning by doing.
So, while the Tevatron, the last great American particle accelerator, may be chugging along at just under a trillion electron-volts, it’s still got an outside shot at finding the Higgs-Boson particle before the LHC can find or exclude it. And that could be a fitting final act before the high-energy physics torch passes wholly from Batavia, Illinois, to Geneva.