After Higgs breakthrough, CERN readies for next cosmic quest

Aug 01, 2013 by Jonathan Fowler
A view of the detector in the 12,500-ton Compact Muon Solenoid experiment (CMS). Image courtesy of CERN

A year ago, the world's largest particle collider made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science, identifying what is believed to be the Higgs Boson—the long-sought maker of mass.

Today, its computer screens are dark, the control desks unstaffed and the giant, supercooled tunnel empty of the crashing proton beams whose snapshots of the Big Bang helped flush out the .

But the silence is an illusion.

Behind the scenes, work is pushing ahead to give the vast machine a mighty upgrade, enabling it to advance the frontiers of knowledge even farther.

The 27-kilometre (17-mile) circular lab, straddling the French-Swiss border 100 metres (325 feet) underground, went offline in February for an 18-month overhaul.

And when experiments resume in 2015, scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) will use its enhanced power to probe dark matter, dark energy and supersymmetry—ideas considered as wild as the Higgs Boson was, half a century ago.

As engineers focus on the technical mission, physicists are sifting through the mountains of data that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has churned out since 2010, for there could be more nuggets to find.

"The things that are easy to spot have already been exploited, and now we're taking another look," said Tiziano Camporesi of CERN, noting wryly that dealing with the unknown was, well, unknowable.

"We always say that astronomers have an easier task, because they can actually see what they're looking for!"

The LHC's transform energy into mass, the goal being to find in the sub-atomic debris that help us to understand the Universe.

At peak capacity, the "old" LHC managed a mind-boggling 550 million collisions per second.

"We give the guys as many collisions as we can," said Mike Lamont, head of its operating team. "That's our bread and butter."

"Most of that stuff is not very interesting, so there are real challenges sorting out and throwing most of that away, and picking out the interesting stuff," he explained in the tunnel, which mixes installations fit for a starship with the low-tech practicality of bicycles for inspection tours.

CERN's supercomputers are programmed to identify within microseconds the collisions worth more analysis—chunks of a few hundred per second—before thousands of physicists from across the globe comb the results to advance our knowledge of matter.

"We want to understand how that behaves, why it sticks itself together into tiny things that we call atoms and nuclei at really small scales, into things that we call people and chairs and buildings at bigger scales, and then planets and solar systems, galaxies at larger scales," said CERN spokesman James Gillies.

Puzzles of science

CERN's work can bemuse neophytes, but the researchers find ways to make it simple.

"Everybody knows what an electron is, especially if they put their finger in an electric socket," joked Pierluigi Campana, whose team has just provided the most exhaustive confirmation to date of the Standard Model, the chief theoretical framework of particle physics conceived in the 1970s.

They achieved the most accurate measurement yet of a change in a particle called a Bs, showing that out of every billion, only a handful decay into smaller particles called muon, and do so in pairs.

For the experts, that finding was almost as thrilling as tracking the Higgs Boson—nicknamed the God Particle.

It was theorised in 1964 by British physicist Peter Higgs and others in an attempt to explain a nagging anomaly—why some particles have mass while others, such as light, have none.

It is believed to act like a fork dipped in syrup and held up in dusty air. While some dust slips through cleanly, most gets sticky—in other words, acquires mass. With mass comes gravity, which pulls particles together.

The Standard Model is a trusty conceptual vehicle but it still lacks an explanation for gravity, nor does it account for dark matter and dark energy, which comprise most of the cosmos and whose existence is inferred from their impact on ordinary matter.

Some physicists champion , the notion that there are novel particles which mirror each known particle.

"We have a theory that describes all the stuff around us, all the ordinary, visible matter that makes up the Universe. Except, the problem is, it doesn't. It makes up around five percent of the Universe," said Gillies.

The LHC replaced the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP), which ran from 1989 to 2000. It came online in 2008, but ran into problems, forcing a year-long refit.

It went on to reach a collision level of eight teraelectron volts (TeV)—an energy measure—compared to the LEP's 0.2 TeV.

After the 50 million Swiss franc ($54-million, million-euro) upgrade, the target is 14 TeV, meaning bigger bangs and clearer snapshots.

"Every time we pass a significant amount of data collected, someone will find an excuse to open a bottle of champagne," said physicist Joel Goldstein, glancing at a lab corner piled with empties.

"We're going to run out of space eventually!"

Explore further: A two-stage trap for single protons leads to measurement of their magnetic properties

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vacuum-mechanics
1 / 5 (9) Aug 01, 2013
The Standard Model is a trusty conceptual vehicle but it still lacks an explanation for gravity, nor does it account for dark matter and dark energy, which comprise most of the cosmos and whose existence is inferred from their impact on ordinary matter.
"We have a theory that describes all the stuff around us, all the ordinary, visible matter that makes up the Universe. Except, the problem is, it doesn't. It makes up around five percent of the Universe," said Gillies.

Maybe Higgs field is the same thing as dark energy, if so then it would solve all the problems mentioned…
http://www.vacuum...14〈=en
vlaaing peerd
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 01, 2013
or maybe it just isn't.

Come on man, a little more effort. Why would you think it could be dark energy? How does it match obeservations? etc., etc or does typing that take too long to ensure yourself of a first post?

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (7) Aug 01, 2013
"If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat."
― Douglas Adams
Subach
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2013
"If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat."
― Douglas Adams


Not really an apt analogy for physics in general. And for atomic and nuclear physics in particular, the analogy would seem to suggest we would have learned nothing from many of the methods we actually used to figure out how atomic and nuclear systems work.
Requiem
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 02, 2013
They should just append the following to the end of every article on here:

"Also vacuum mechanics, aether wave theory and electric universe."

You three are seriously ridiculous. Get a life.

I do find it somewhat amusing how cantdrive85 has been calling franklins/natello/etc a crank lately though.
antialias_physorg
3.6 / 5 (5) Aug 02, 2013
"If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat."
― Douglas Adams

While it's a fun quote at first glance it also misses the point: When you do that then you have learned that some of the acts of taking a cat apart are not conductive to life. By analyzing which parts of the procedure were the ones that killed the cat you can learn a lot about what is necessary for life - and what makes a cat a cat.

It may not be the nicest way to do science, but the unusual thing about scientists (as opposed to laymen) is: they're willing to learn from experiment. Whether it succeeds OR fails.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.3 / 5 (3) Aug 02, 2013
Sigh! First, whether _the_ [standard] Higgs Boson is found is still open. _A_ Higgs field has been found, with at least one boson.

Second, the standard Higgs is not technically nicknamed, and in fact scientists at large ask journalists to abstain from using or hinting at the silly, misleading name. Especially Higgs himself, which in Stockholm lately gave _two_ thumbs down to the journalist's mistake. Any journalist writing on particle physics should know this by now!