Physicists from around the globe launched a major programme yesterday aimed at converting the LHC ‘Big Bang’ particle collider at Cern near Geneva into a vastly more powerful cosmic research machine by the year 2020.
Cern officials said the effort, involving scientific establishments in the European Union, the United States and Japan, would demand development of new technologies in fields ranging from super-conducting magnets to energy transfer lines.
The upgrade will enable the operators to carry out up to 10 times as many collisions, or luminosity, in the LHC as the hundreds of millions a second now, and to gain deep insight into the origins and make-up of the universe.
‘With processes so rare, extra luminosity makes a big difference to our ability to make precision measurements and discover new things,’ said Sergio Bertolucci, research director at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.
The programme was put in motion at a meeting of scientists and engineers from participant countries to plan how work will be coordinated, Cern said.
The collisions, in which particles are smashed together at just a fraction under the speed of light, produce computer-monitored explosions that have been dubbed ‘mini-Big Bangs.’
The LHC, or Large Hadron Collider, runs around a 27km (16.8mile) circular tunnel under the borders of Switzerland and France. It has been in operation since March 2010, producing a wealth of data for physicists and cosmologists.
HEAD-SPINNING HADRON FACTS
It's the largest machine in the world
It has a circumference of 26,659m and a total of 9,300 magnets inside.
Just one-eighth of its cryogenic distribution system would qualify as the world’s largest fridge.
It's the world's fastest race track
At full power, trillions of protons race around the LHC accelerator ring 11,245 times a second, travelling at 99.9999991 per cent the speed of light.
It's empty inside
The beams of particles travel in an ultra-high vacuum – a cavity as empty as interplanetary space.
When two beams of protons collide, they generate temperatures more than 100,000 times hotter than the heart of the Sun, concentrated within a minuscule space.
By contrast, the 'cryogenic distribution system', which circulates superfluid helium around the accelerator ring, keeps the LHC at a super cool temperature of -271.3C (1.9 K) – even colder than outer space.
The most powerful supercomputer system in the world
The data recorded by each of the big experiments at the LHC fill around 100,000 dual layer DVDs every year.
To allow the thousands of scientists scattered around the globe to collaborate on the analysis tens of thousands of computers located around the world are being harnessed in a distributed computing network called the Grid.