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...


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