Is The New LHC Run The End Of Particle Physics As We Know It?
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN facility (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) near Geneva, is the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world. It has been used in a large number of experiments, which have proved that the Standard Model of particle physics encompasses essentially every particle that makes up the universe and the forces that act upon them. The most significant of these was the discovery of the Higgs boson, the last particle predicted by the Standard Model to be discovered.
After being offline for two years for upgrading, the LHC is now back up and running again for its second run of experimentation. This time it's even more powerful and the investigations are going beyond the Standard Model. Scientists are particularly excited and anxious about this run because it could prove theories that go far beyond the reach of the Standard Model or suggest that no more research is required as the Standard Model is all there is.
The New and Improved Large Hadron Collider
Consisting of 27 kilometres of superconducting magnets, the LHC contains two separate particle beam pipes kept in ultra-high vacuum. These beams travel at close to the speed of light and cause the particles to collide at a force equivalent to an apple hitting the moon hard enough to create a six-mile wide crater. Since its upgrade, the LHC has nearly doubled its collision energy to a record-breaking 13 teraelectronvolts. Scientists hope that this new level of energy will allow more radical discoveries.
Theories Beyond the Standard Model
One of the theories to be tested in this run is the 'Supersymmetry' theory, which suggests that 23% of the universe could be made up of dark matter, which is not included in the Standard Model. Some scientists believe that further study of the Higgs boson could prove the existence of dark matter, as it seems to be attracted to particles with mass such as dark matter. Studying the way the Higgs boson interacts with other particles could unlock that mystery. Another question that the Standard Model is not able to answer concerns anti-matter. A new set of experiments called LHCb (Large Hadron Collider beauty) are currently investigating the similarities between matter and anti-matter particles by studying the beauty quark.
Rolf Heuer, the Director-General of CERN stated that, “with this new energy level, the LHC will open new horizons for physics and for future discoveries”. However, if it fails to prove any theories beyond the Standard Model, it is highly likely that these theories will never be proven and will render further experimentation obsolete. However, CERN is not the only organisation trying to make important breakthroughs in particle physics and for those other experiments equipment, such as stepper motors that can operate in ultra-high vacuum conditions, is essential.
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Photo credit: CERN