The Large Hadron Collider

The LHC is a a scientific instrument which will be used to help us validate the Standard Model of particle physics. It is being constructed near the French-Swiss border, just outside Geneva and will stand as a monument to man’s engineering feats. It is 100m underground (though visible from above ground too), and has a circumference of some 26km. It is also the world’s largest fridge! It will contain 9300 magnets which will be supercooled with 10, 000 tonnes of liquid nitrogen to -176 degrees, and then cooled further with 60 tonnes of liquid helium to -271.3 degrees, just a fraction above absolute zero.

At full power, trillions of protons will race around the LHC accelerator ring 11, 245 times a second, travelling at 99.99% the speed of light. Two beams of protons will each travel at a maximum energy of 7 TeV (tera-electronvolt), corresponding to head-to-head collisions of 14 TeV. Altogether some 600 million collisions will take place every second. To avoid colliding with gas molecules inside the accelerator, the beams of particles travel in an ultra-high vacuum – a cavity as empty as interplanetary space. The internal pressure of the LHC is 10-13 atm, ten times less than the pressure on the Moon!

The data recorded by each of the big experiments at the LHC will fill around 100 000 dual layer DVDs every year. To allow the thousands of scientists scattered around the globe to collaborate on the analysis over the next 15 years (the estimated lifetime of the LHC), tens of thousands of computers located around the world are being harnessed in a distributed computing network called the Grid.

One of the hopes is that the last missing particle to be detected from the standard model, the Higgs boson will be detected in the LHC. Scientists have posited the existence of the Higgs boson, it may explain why the expansion of the Universe is getting faster rather than slowing down as we would expect, but to date it has not yet been observed.

The Boston Globe has some fantastic new pictures from above and inside the collider. These are truly amazing:

An end cap!

An end cap!

Part of the data centre for capturing and processing the terabytes of information which the LHC will generate

Part of the data centre for capturing and processing the terabytes of information which the LHC will generate

All pictures are copyright CERN

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