Collider test called a 'great milestone of mankind'

Particle beam's first lap around accelerator paves way for upcoming collision experiment

Wednesday's successful test run of a massive particle collider is being called "one of the great engineering milestones of mankind."

On Wednesday morning, just outside of Geneva, Switzerland, scientists shot a particle beam fully around a 17-mile loop in the world's most powerful particle accelerator - the Large Hadron Collider. Twenty years after development of the collider began, a particle beam made the full journey around the accelerator for the first time. It's a forebear to the time when scientists will accelerate two particle beams toward each other at 99.9 percent of the speed of light.

Smashing the beams together will create showers of new particles that should re-create conditions in the universe just moments after its conception, giving scientists the chance to answer one of the world's oldest questions - how was the universe created?

"This is truly one of the great engineering milestones of mankind," said Harvey Newman, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology. "It was characterized as having gone as 'smooth as silk', considering everything that had to work."

Newman told Computerworld that scientists sent one beam around the tube and then sent a beam in the opposite direction - each going one at a time. Each beam made one circle around the accelerator. And they hit 99.999998 percent of the speed of light.

"It's actually very exciting," said Bolek Wyslouch, a professor of physics at MIT who has been working on the collider project for the last seven years. "We were anxiously waiting, with the whole world watching, to see how this worked."

Wyslouch said he's not sure when they'll run the first particle collision experiment, but estimated that it will be closer to days or weeks away rather than months.

"That's really exciting because just a few minutes of [that experiment] will give us a hint of where this is going and confidence that we are on the right track," he added.

Scientists predict that they will be running particle collision experiments for the next 10 to 15 years.

The US$9 billion LHC project, which sits astride the Franco-Swiss border, operates a tunnel buried 50 meters to 150 meters below the ground. The tunnel, or tube, is designed to facilitate and control a head-on collision between two beams of the same kind of particles -- either protons or ions. Traveling through a vacuum comparable to outer space, the beams are guided around the tube by more than 1,000 superconducting magnets.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld

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