The LHC returns, bringing new excitement to physics

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful atom smasher, is a $10 billion particle accelerator located in Geneva, Switzerland. Its team, which included Vassar 2012 Commencement Speaker Sau Lan Wu ’63, led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson, an elementary particle also known as God Particle. In Wu’s speech, she explained the findings, stating, “It is responsible for all masses, from electrons to humans to galaxies. Without this particle, there would be no atoms, no molecules, no cells and of course no humans.”

The particle is still being debated by physicists today, but has fulfilled 40 years of research that complete the Standard Model of particle physics, one of physics’ most important theories. (The Verge, “LHC reboot: the world’s largest particle accelerator is now active,” 4.5.15) The reboot of the LHC may lead to some arguments regarding the God Particle to be settled, along with new and exciting discoveries that are indirectly related to previous findings.

CERN is the world’s largest research organization and the group responsible for the reboot of the LHC. CERN is comprised of physicists and engineers that are hoping to unveil the mysteries of the universe. The LHC is a machine like none other that allows for scientists to recreate the conditions that existed within a billionth of a second after the Big Bang. This is made possible by colliding beams that are composed of high-energy protons or ions at very high speeds—at nearly the speed of light. (Science & Technologies Facility Council, “Large Hadron Collider,” 2015). Researchers stress the importance of being able to replicate these conditions, for it has never been done before and would allow for an expansion of discovering heavy particles, including particles that are associated with dark matter.

Theoretical physicist Joe Lykken, who works at Fermilab in Illinois, has been very optimistic about the reboot of the LHC, as during its two years of inactivity the LHC has been upgraded to handle an increased power level that would allow for the more advanced experiments. Lykken stated, “The only question on everybody’s mind is, ‘Can you crank it up to higher energies?’… That’s the biggest jump in energy we’re going to have during my lifetime. Our best possible scenario is that we see supersymmetry, we see extra dimensions, we see evidence of dark matter, and it’s all tied together in some new theory that blows our mind” (NBC News, “Big Bang Beam: Large Hadron Collider Restarts After Two-Year Break,” 4.5.15).

And it doesn’t appear that Lykeen will be disappointed. On Sunday, April 5, it was confirmed that the machine was up and running. Researchers celebrated as beams of high-speed protons intersected in the collider’s 17-mile (27km) tunnel.

In science, there is often thought to be a competitive nature among researchers with pressure to be the first to publish and make novel discoveries. Interestingly, the LHC has brought many researchers together and has been considered one of the most cooperative science projects to date. The construction of the LHC involved 111 nations. This included designing, building and testing equipment and software (Science & Technologies Facility Council, Large Hadron Collider, 2015). Currently, the LHC is still considered a collaborative device and is utilized by thousands of researchers from around the world in varying ways from participating in actual experiments to analyzing the data produced. Cern uses a world-wide network of computers for its analysis, including numerous topics, which means for many obtaining a PhD in physics or engineering that the LHC will most likely assist in them achieving their doctorate.

Current Senior Simon Patané ’15, a co-chair of both the physics and astronomy major committees who is going to be pursuing a graduate degree in engineering post-Vassar, stated that the LHC could affect a broader scope than we realize: “Even though it might not directly effect my own research at this time, you can never predict what sort of advances come from leading edge physics research, so this new upgrade could have an impact on all of society, even though it’s not clear to us right now.”

Overall, the reboot of the LHC brings excitement to the scientific community. The findings from this device could affect multiple fields in various ways. Although there is no way of knowing when a discovery will be made, Patané expects to see something remarkable in the next three to five years. In the mean time, physics research will continue on in different forms, trying to uncover the mysteries of our world.

 

—Delaney Fischer ’15 is a neuroscience major.

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