Physicists around the world are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the largest particle collider ever built, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which occupies a 17-mile ring 300 feet underground in the CERN laboratory, located on the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland. When the collider is turned on, powerful electromagnetic fields accelerate protons to the highest energies ever produced in a laboratory. Giant particle detectors (called ATLAS, CMS, LHCb, and ALICE ) measure the direction and energy of the particles produced in each collision. Since the particle collisions happen 40 million times per second, the amount of information analyzed by each detector makes up the largest dataset ever produced. For particle physicists, it’s a dream come true.
The anniversary also marks a feat of sustained collaboration between thousands of researchers from hundreds of institutions, including our own physics department. The ATLAS group at UMass Amherst includes scientists, engineers and students who analyze the data collected in the ATLAS detector and work on the operation, maintenance and upgrade of the experiment. ATLAS is a collaboration of over 3000 scientists from all around the world, and the detector itself (one of four within the jaw-droppingly huge collider), weighs as much as a hundred 747 jets, and houses more than 1,800 miles of cable.
This past decade at the LHC has been filled with excitement, including the discovery of the Higgs boson particle in 2012. AsRafael Coelho Lopes de Sa, physics, relates, “the Higgs boson was predicted theoretically in the 1960’s and, later, understood as an important part of the Standard Model of Particle Physics. It was the last fundamental particle of the Standard Model to be observed in the laboratory.” The UMass ATLAS group has made significant contributions to the experiment, he says, including developing “new algorithms used in several searches for new sub-nuclear particles, even more exotic ones than Higgs boson.”
What’s next for the ATLAS detector? Upgrades are in the works, and several new technologies for themare being developed in brand new laboratories opened in the Lederle Graduate Research Tower and the new Physical Sciences Building. Lopes de Sa points out, “UMass scientists, professors, and students will spend the next five years producing new particle detectors and dedicated hardware that selects only the most interesting collisions. These systems will be installed in the ATLAS detector and will be key to understanding the biggest bangs that scientists can produce, giving us clues into why and how the world around us has come to be.”