Particle physicists on a quest for 'new physics'

September 6, 2017, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
After five years of work, EPFL's physicists, together with some 800 international researchers involved in the CERN's LHCb project, have just taken an important step by building a new detector -- a scintillating fiber tracker dubbed SciFi -- to harvest more data from the collider. Credit: CERN

After five years of work, EPFL's physicists, together with some 800 international researchers involved in the CERN's LHCb project, have just taken an important step by building a new detector—a scintillating fiber tracker dubbed SciFi—to harvest more data from the collider.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, produces hundreds of millions of proton collisions per second. But researchers working on the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) experiment, which involves from EPFL, can only record 2,000 of those collisions, using one of the detectors installed on the accelerator. So in the end, this technological marvel leaves the physicists wanting more. They are convinced that the vast volume of uncaptured data holds the answers to several unresolved questions.

In elementary particle physics, the Standard Model - the theory that best describes phenomena in this field - has been well and truly tried and tested, yet the researchers know that the puzzle is not complete. That's why they are studying phenomena that are not accounted for by the Standard Model. This quest for "new physics" seeks to explain the disappearance of antimatter after the Big Bang and the nature of the dark matter that, although it represents around 30% of the universe, can only be detected by astronomical measurements at this point.

"To extract more information from the LHC data, we need new technologies for our LHCb detector," says Aurelio Bay from EPFL's Laboratory for High Energy Physics. EPFL has teamed up with several research institutes to develop the new equipment that will upgrade the experiment in 2020.

Using scintillating fiber to detect particles

After five years of work, EPFL's physicists, together with some 800 international researchers involved in the LHCb project, have just taken an important preliminary step towards significantly enhancing their experimental equipment. They have decided to build a new detector - a scintillating fiber tracker dubbed SciFi.

Construction of the tracker, which incorporates 10,000 kilometers of scintillating fibers each with a diameter of 0.25mm, has already begun. When particles travel through them, the fibers will give off light signals that will be picked up by light-amplifying diodes. The scintillating fibers will be arranged in three panels measuring five by six meters, installed behind a magnet, where the particles exit the LHC accelerator collision point. The particles will pass through several of these fiber 'mats' and deposit part of their energy along the way, producing some photons of light that will then be turned into an electric signal.

Data on how the particles traverse the fibers will be enough to reconstruct their trajectory. The physicists will then use this information to restore their primitive physical state. "What we will essentially be doing is tracing these particles' journey back to their starting point. This should give us some insight into what happened 14 billion years ago, before antimatter disappeared, leaving us with the matter we have today," says Bay.

Huge data flows

SciFi is a key component for acquiring data at the highest speed, as it includes filters that are designed to preserve only useful data. In an ideal world, the physicists would collect and analyze all of the data without needing to use too many filters. But that would involve a massive amount of data.

"We may already be at the limit, because we of course have to save the data somewhere. First we use magnetic storage and then we distribute the data on the LHC GRID, which includes machines in Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, at CERN, and in France and the UK. Many countries are taking part, and numerous studies on this data are being run simultaneously," adds Bay. He points to his computer screen: red is used to denote programs that are not working well or those that have been trying for several days to be included among the priorities.

Bay neatly puts this initiative into a physicist's perspective: "If the LHC doesn't have enough power to uncover , it's all over for my generation of physicists! We will have to come up with a new machine, for the next generation."

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13 comments

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rrrander
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 06, 2017
The LHC, despite the tentative detection of the Higg's Boson, hasn't yielded the results they were hoping for. They now need huge injections of capital to create new detectors in the hopes the machine will work as they'd like it to. In truth, the Americans dropped the ball when they cancelled the SSC, which would have been much more powerful and might have gotten them where they wanted to go.
shavera
5 / 5 (8) Sep 06, 2017
It's pretty common for any particle physics experiment to have their detectors upgraded over the course of their lifetimes. Even if SSC had been built and was producing the collision energies it was supposed to, we're still miniaturizing and refining our detector technology at the present. So we might have had higher energy collisions back then, but we may not have had the resolution to detect some of the fine detail we can do with the present LHC.
baudrunner
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 06, 2017
One thing's for damn sure, they are not going to discover any dark matter nonsense by colliding sub-atomic particles. DM and DE theories are drawn from the observation of the most distant objects in our observable universe. Information is missing about the objects that exist beyond the observable limit and that are gravitationally acting on those objects that we can observe and that appear to be behaving as if some mysterious dark force is acting upon them...

Oh, yeah, too logical and simple. They don't get paid money to do simple.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (5) Sep 06, 2017
Actually, @baud, dark matter isn't about distant objects at all. We can see there has to be dark matter in the Andromeda galaxy, our nearest large neighbor galaxy, and also in several nearby galaxy clusters like the Coma cluster, which was the first one Zwicky used it for when he originally proposed it.

Do try to keep DM and DE straight if you're going to argue about them.
theon
not rated yet Sep 07, 2017
Good that Bay got the message. Still has to change "if" by "since"
swordsman
1 / 5 (2) Sep 07, 2017
Over 100 years late. Check the electronic model of the atom created by Professor Max Planck. The atom is indeed and electronic system, and it conforms with the other laws of physics and allows analysis of the electrical forces between atoms and the dynamic reactions.
Jitro
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 08, 2017
The LHC, despite the tentative detection of the Higg's Boson, hasn't yielded the results they were hoping for.
This study collected impressive summary of theories and their predictions failed at LHC. Various stringy, susy and technicolor models are between them...
they are not going to discover any dark matter nonsense by colliding sub-atomic particles
Of course not, the dark matter energy density is by many orders of magnitude bellow energy density studied with the LHC collisions. But the current generation of physicists struggles to save general relativity theory, so that they're looking for massive particles (WIMPS), no matter how unphysical such an assumption looks like. If nothing else, their money and grants are going as if nothing would happen.
Jitro
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 08, 2017
It's pretty common for any particle physics experiment to have their detectors upgraded over the course of their lifetimes
The problem is, the sensitivity of detectors is often upgraded even after reaching the exclusion limit predicted by theories. To put it eloquently, for disproval of existence of pink unicorns at Moon only the sensitivity of one unicorn per surface is required, all the further investments into increased sensitivity are sorta cheating and embezzling of money of tax payers, who are paying for whole this fun. Most of physicists working at colliders already know, they never get Nobel prize or some wider recognition just because of their job position - their only incentive is prolonged perspective of grants and jobs no matter of actual progress. So that they're struggling for it.
434a
5 / 5 (3) Sep 08, 2017
To put it eloquently, for disproval of existence of pink unicorns at Moon only the sensitivity of one unicorn per surface is required, all the further investments into increased sensitivity are sorta cheating and embezzling of money of tax payers.


One man's eloquence is another man's hyperbolic strawman I guess.
Jitro
2.3 / 5 (6) Sep 08, 2017
The contemporary physics has way more useful findings to pursue and research. The research of theories which have no practical utility, not to say the theories which already failed at detectors projected for their finding has zero if not negative priority for human civilization. It's as simple as it is.
434a
5 / 5 (8) Sep 08, 2017
The contemporary physics has way more useful findings to pursue and research. The research of theories which have no practical utility, not to say the theories which already failed at detectors projected for their finding has zero if not negative priority for human civilization. It's as simple as it is.


Of course that is all in your very humble opinion, yes? I mean, those of us without your god like omniscience just have to accept your word that this research is a waste of time. I'll write them a letter,

Dear CERN, quick shut it all down. Jitro says he's seen the future and KNOWS you're wasting our taxes. He needs the 1 cent he personally donated to buy something. He's not sure what it is but it's the end of civilization if he doesn't get it as the offer runs out today. The shopping channel said so.

Shame you weren't around in the early 20th Century to tell Bohr and his colleagues that quantum mechanics was of no discernible value to humanity
f_darwin
1 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2017
there is no such a thing as new physic. there is only real physic or conjuring trick presented as physic. currently scientist can not comprehend Atom is a functioning unit. as such it can not be understood by smashing it. like blind grown up little children, they pull all the bits of spider apart and then they think by putting the pieces together they have spider & wonder why all the parts together dose not do what spider do. they convince themselves they know spider. LHC is as useful to understand atom is as swig work to understand man's physiology. Atom is a functioning unit. It has complex structure. To understand atom scientist should know structure of photon, electron, nuclei and gravity. MG1
f_darwin
1 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2017
there is no such a thing as new physic. there is only real physic or conjuring trick presented as physic. currently scientist can not comprehend Atom is a functioning unit. as such it can not be understood by smashing it. like blind grown up children, they pull all the bits of spider apart and then they think by putting the pieces together they have spider & wonder why all the parts together dose not do what spider do. they convince themselves they know spider. LHC is as useful to understand atom is as swig work to understand man's physiology. Atom is a functioning unit. It has complex structure. To understand atom scientist should know structure of photon, electron, nuclei and gravity. current ones are not correct. MG1

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