The Goals of LHC At CERN

This article on Goals of LHC is a guest article by Ariana Vlad, senior at the International Computers High School of Bucharest, Romania, where she focuses on studying Physics and Mathematics.

Scientists at CERN are determined to answer the most comprehensive questions about our universe, hoping to use what they learn about the tiny particles we now consider elementary in deciphering the secrets of the cosmos. To do this, their everyday work is guided by “what”s, “why” and “how”s. 

How?

The newest addition to the CERN’s accelerators is the renowned Large Hadron Collider. Even though it just passed its 12th birthday, LHC remains the world’s largest and most powerful of its kind. It consists of a 27-kilometer ring situated 175 meters under the Switzerland-France border. Guided by a magnetic field as high as 9 Tesla, the accelerated protons can reach 14 TeV in a system operating at a 1.8 K - colder than outer space - to ensure the supercooling of the magnets. The particle beams - consisting of protons to ensure 10^18 collisions per second - collide at various locations near one of the four main detectors: ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus), CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), LHC-b (LHC-beauty) and ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment). 

Goals of LHC
Overall view of ALICE (Image: CERN)

Related: An introduction to the Standard Model of particle physics.

What?

The goals of LHC, although all related to particle physics somehow, are really diverse, creative, and ingenious.

1. Confirming theories about the Standard Model

One of the main goals sounds simpler than the other. While a lot of measurements are not used for proving new theories, but rather for further research and refining of the old ones, this is the most important task. Producing several rare particles such as quarks per second, the accelerator and detector work together in differentiating strange phenomena from miscalculations and technical errors.

2. Finding the Higgs Boson

This Herculean task was the first one attributed to the Large Hadron Collider, which did not disappoint. Not many Higgs Bosons result from the proton-proton collisions but after more than thousands of terabytes of data, scientists at CERN managed to answer two of the most pressing questions about these particles: “What is Higgs Boson’s rest energy?” and “How unstable are these particles?”. The answers: 125 GeV and very unstable (a half-life of 10^(-22) seconds).

Related: From theory to experiment, the story of Higgs Boson.

3. New fundamental interactions

Being the most performant accelerator all around the globe at the moment, the LHC is scientists' best hope at finding new interactions, represented by new forces too weak to have been observed before. Presumably relating to electrons and positrons, these newly-discovered forces could get us closer to a unified theory of everything and maybe solving the current symmetry problem. Finding new fundamental interactions is one of the most important goals of LHC.

Goals of LHC
The 4 Fundamental Forces of Nature

4. Producing dark matter

One of cosmology’s strangest mystery, dark matter is a very challenging topic to approach through an experimental setup because of the lack of knowledge the science world has at the moment. Nevertheless, the stakes are also really high: such a discovery would really cement our understanding of the far Universe.

5. Exploring elementary nature of particles

When Thompson discovered the electron, the common belief was that it was the tiniest bit of matter one could isolate. Today, even though we discovered leptons and quarks and nothing else beyond them, scientists remain skeptical about the elementary nature of those particles. Being sure of this feature requires incredibly high-energy accelerators, but with every upgrade of the LHC, the goal gets closer and closer.  

Why?

Not only is our species incredibly curious and evolution-oriented, but making discoveries and groundbreaking research at CERN and any other scientific center can benefit the whole world. A better understanding of how the Universe works can unlock secrets we never imagined that were hidden from us, antimatter is incredibly useful in new medical technologies and the first efficient controlled fusion reaction would create a new energy source. No matter what the question is, scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider are diligently listening, ever ready to propose an experiment.

Related: 5 most important hypothetical particles, the discoveries of which would change the science.

Leave a Reply