It's been a busy few years for me, but moreso for the Large Hadron Collider. Operating since September 2008, the 27 kilometre long particle accelerator has been furthering science's understanding of subatomic particles for a long time.

Let's not forget just how precise an instrument the LHC is. From their own description,

Thousands of magnets of different varieties and sizes are used to direct the beams around the accelerator. These include 1232 dipole magnets 15 metres in length which bend the beams, and 392 quadrupole magnets, each 5–7 metres long, which focus the beams. Just prior to collision, another type of magnet is used to "squeeze" the particles closer together to increase the chances of collisions. The particles are so tiny that the task of making them collide is akin to firing two needles 10 kilometres apart with such precision that they meet halfway.
Basically, this is totally bonkers crazy science, and it's amazing to behold.

Somewhere, deep in Switzerland...

What have we observed so far?

Well, the Standard Model of physics has been further reinforced by LHC findings - every result ever seen in the collider conforms to the Standard Model.

LHC's ATLAS detector

No further particles have been found, although new 'bound states' for exotic particles have been confirmed, much to the delight of quantum chromodynamicists the world over. (Did you know that quarks and antiquarks come in one of three colours/anticolours?)

We've not found evidence of supersymmetry (SUSY), extra dimensions or direct creation of dark matter. That's not to say they don't exist - I'm inclined to believe in the cyclic multiverse theory - but you can rest easy for the moment, the LHC won't be making the universe implode.

  • 2011: Higgs boson mediator particle observed decaying into two photons in the ATLAS detector
  • 2012: further hints of confirmed Higgs boson observation
  • 2013: discovery of Higgs boson mediator particle confirmed!
  • March 2018: higher power illumination of the Higgs boson by ATLAS
  • April 2018: CERN begins the year's test collisions at 6.5 TeV, with data collection expected to start in May 2018. From the CERN update:

    Achieving first test collisions is anything but an easy job. It involves round-the-clock checking and rechecking of the thousands of systems that comprise the LHC. It includes ramping up the energy of each beam to the operating value of 6.5 TeV, checking the beams’ instrumentation and optics, testing electronic feedback systems, aligning jaw-like devices called collimators that close around the beams to absorb stray particles and, finally, focusing the beams to make them collide.

    Each beam consists of packets of protons called bunches. For these test collisions, each beam contains only two “nominal” bunches, each made up of 120 billion protons. This is far fewer than the 1200 bunches per beam that will mark the start of serious data taking and particle hunting. As the year progresses, the operations team will continue to increase the number of bunches in each beam, up to the maximum of 2556.

    With today’s test collisions, the teams of the experiments located at four collision points around the LHC ring (ALICELHCbCMS and ATLAS) will now be able to check and calibrate their detectors.
    (See the full CERN update for more)

Forbes has a great summary of LHC discoveries to date, and most importantly, what we've not found. In science, observing nothing is just as constructive as a novel finding.

As CERN has only recorded approximately 5% of data expected to be collected through the project's lifetime, expect more confirmations regarding our quantum universe.

While you're at it, don't forget to
CERN's LHC category has some great articles, be sure to have a browse...

Wired reported today on progress being made at the LHC at discovery of the Higgs Boson. They also futuregaze a bit and declare that formal discovery may even be announced in a few weeks' time... Crazy stuff.

Ever since tantalizing hints of the Higgs turned up in December at the Large Hadron Collider, scientists there have been busily analyzing the results of their energetic particle collisions to further refine their search.

“The bottom line though is now clear: There’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look,” wrote mathematician Peter Woit on his blog, Not Even Wrong. According to Woit, there are rumors of new data that would be the most compelling evidence yet for the long-sought Higgs.

The possible news has a number of physics bloggers speculating that LHC scientists will announce the discovery of the Higgs during the International Conference on High Energy Physics, which takes place in Melbourne, Australia, July 4 to 11.

Head to for the juicy goodness.

And as a sidenote, yikes! the Blogger interface has changed radically since I last posted through it.

CERN's finest hardcore physics nerds,
busy testing in the confines of the LHC tunnel
At the end of January 2011, CERN announced the then-latest developments in the LHC's shutdown work as 'nearing completion'. Not only were they planning to replace some of the crucial supercooled electromagnets responsible for beam control, they've been testing a newly-commissioned power system, POPS, responsible for juicing the PS Booster.

Related: click to read a 2003 paper by Frank Gerigk proposing various possible designs for the transfer line between LINAC4 and the PS Booster systems.

Work completely fairly swiftly, and since February scaled quite quickly to some impressive, hitherto-unseen levels of collisions. However, it's never smooth sailing running the most powerful particle collider in the world (as you can see in almost-realtime from the LHC's daily operational logs). Back at the end of March, published a brief article (including a lovely photo of the LHC's fibre starpoint, where a fraction of CERN's 35,000km of fibre originates) which elaborates further on CERN's progress in stepping up the speed of operations in the first two months of 2011. It's well worth a click, here's a quick quote:

After just a month of operation in 2011, the LHC has already achieved more than half the total number of proton-proton collisions delivered in 2010. The experiments have accumulated an integrated luminosity of 28 pb-1 this year. Integrated luminosity is a measure of the total number of proton-proton collisions measured by the experiments.
--'s Space News blog

If you want to stay apprised of all management and technological developments, the best way to do (aside from reading this humble site ;) is to check periodically on CERN's TE meeting minutes pages at Not familiar with the TEMB? On their pages, they explain,

The Technology Department is responsible for technologies which are specific to existing particle accelerators, facilities and future projects.

The main domains of activities cover: magnets (superconducting, normal conducting, fast pulsed magnets, electrostatic and magnetic septa), their machine integration and protection, power converters, cryogenics, high and ultra-high vacuum systems, coatings and surface treatments.

The Technology department is responsible for injection and extraction systems in the entire accelerator complex and for beam transfer lines between accelerators and primary beam lines up to targets...

They go on for another page - in a nutshell, everything the LHC does falls under their ultimate purview. Worth keeping tabs on meeting minutes if you want to know the minutiae of running a collider!

Aside: a January 2011 post from Francis' World Inside Out, which has some lovely graphed data, comparisons and discussion on the relative potentials of ATLAS and the CMS projects on finding the Higgs -

The LHC is kindly livestreaming the power-ups, beam alignment and first runs of the LHC - and you can watch from the CMS, ALICE, LHCb or ATLAS (plus the main feed) at the LHC First Physics web site:

It's finally getting given a few more beans... From the Grauniad:

Large Hadron Collider – Live!
The waiting is over. The world's largest, most powerful particle accelerator goes into action this morning. The hunt for new particles, forces and dimensions starts here.
The G has a liveblog on their web site which you can set to update every minute.


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