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Higgs Force: The Ultimate Prize

A multi-billion Euro project is about to come to fruition at CERN near Geneva with the completion of the most sophisticated piece of scientific equipment ever assembled. This is the Large Hadron Collider, a machine that will accelerate two beams of protons to much higher energies than have ever been achieved before. The head-on collisions of protons in these beams will allow physicists to probe the structure of matter at shorter distances than ever before.

The LHC is an enormous engineering project that involves many state-of-the-art technologies. The superconducting magnets that steer the protons around their 27 kilometre circuit operate at a temperature of less than two degrees above absolute zero, which has required the construction of the world’s largest cryogenic refrigeration system. To record and analyse the collision debris, new particle detectors have been built in enormous caverns at each of the four points around the LHC circuit where the beams intersect. The largest of these is called ATLAS. It is the biggest particle detector ever built at an accelerator facility. The amount of data that will be generated within ATLAS and the other detectors is enormous. It has required the development of very sophisticated electronics that search for the rare and valuable signs of new and interesting physics and new techniques for storing and distributing data in a system that is known as the Grid.

Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee

A worker in the LHC tunnel.
(Copyright CERN Geneva.)

Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee

Installing the ATLAS detector.
(Copyright CERN Geneva.)

The most important target for the LHC is the Higgs particle. Finding the Higgs would complete the line-up of particles in the standard model and would enable physicists to make the most stringent tests of theory to date. Anything else that turns up will represent completely new physics. It is over thirty years since the last big surprise in particle physics, but the LHC is sure to turn up something unexpected.

Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee
Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee

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