As you read this, workers just outside of Geneva are slowly cooling a 27-kilometer-long ring of magnets to the temperature of superconducting liquid helium, two degrees Celsius above absolute zero. When they finish this months-long process in mid-June, by current estimates researchers will start to fill this ring with twin beams of protons rotating in opposite directions. Two months later, they will nudge the beams to crash into one another, and the long-awaited Large Hadron Collider (LHC)
, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, will be up and running.
Such was the schedule
outlined at the end of March by the director general of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), which operates the LHC. In a press conference this morning, a physicist working on the project said that schedule still holds. "We're getting pretty close. I think peple are nervous there may be some unforeseen problem," said Abraham Seiden of the University of California, Santa Cruz said. Hence, he wouldn't "bet the house" on the current schedule.
The current plan is to start the LHC at a lower energy than the maximum it was designed for 10 TeV (10 trillion electron volts) instead of 14 TeV. That's 10 and 14 times the energy, respectively, of the Tevatron at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, the machine that discovered the top quark and is actively searching for the Higgs boson
, the proposed source of mass in the universe. Some of the LHC's superconducting magnets proved a little twitchy
last year, unexpectedly shunting the intense magnetic fields that allow them to drag protons moving at near light-speed along a circular path.
So you may ask: If the LHC is supposed to be the discovery machine
, and it's about to switch on, when will it discover something? The most interesting part of Seiden's talk gave a hypothetical timeline for when we can expect the LHC to put a solid check in the "yes" or "no" box for various hypotheses. (Note: the years aren't the important part, he said, because those might change; but this is the order in which we can expect things to happen)
One version of supersymmetry, an extension of the standard model that would double the number of known particles.
2010 to 2011
The Higgs boson, the final piece of the standard model.
Extra dimensions of spacetime. (There are many such models this represents one possibility.)
"Compositeness" or additional pieces inside of quarks, which make up protons and neutrons and are thought to be indivisible.
Note: beyond this point, the LHC would have to be upgraded to the "super" LHC
higher-energy form of supersymmetry
New forces beyond the four we know of (electromagnetism, the weak and strong nuclear forces, gravity).
Magic eight ball says: That's all from St. Louis for the moment. Stay tuned.
Edited by Christie Nicholson at 04/18/2008 8:04 AM