CERN’s upgraded LHC to restart this month; ready to look for dark matter

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European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) is prepping to start its upgraded Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – world’s largest atom smasher and particle collider – this month in a bid to go beyond the Higgs Boson and look for answers to Universe’s best kept secrets including the dark matter.

The LHC, credited with uncovering the Higgs Boson particle, has been on a 2-year break during which it underwent maintenance and massive upgrades that will enable it to operate at higher energy levels. The LHC – which requires maintenance every three years – has been refurbished with new magnets, stronger connections, higher energy beams, superior cryogenics etc.

The LHC won’t have all its guns blazing in March and CERN expects to take till the end of May to reach collisions at the highest energy levels at 13 TEV, the highest ever for the LHC. The first phase only saw energy levels reaching up to eight TEV, powerful beams of which can melt a tonne of copper.

Having spotted the elusive Higgs Boson particle in 2013, physicists at CERN are looking to unlock universe’s longest-standing secrets – the dark matter.

Rolf Heuer, CERN Director General, said: “We are entering a new phase after two years of heavy maintenance and improvement of the infrastructure and to restart the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) now with higher energy opens new windows depending on the kindness of nature, of course. We are excited.”

Frederick Bordry, the Director for Accelerators and Technology, said, “We are turning into a new energy regime. CERN expects the LHC to open in another two weeks where the protons will start circulating in the LHC. Then it will take some time. We have learnt to be patient.”

This is the second run of the LHC, the first having discovered the elusive Higgs boson particle in 2013 a major find of elementary particle that revealed some of the universe’s best kept secrets and a part of what particle physicists call Standard Model of particle physics.

“It’s three years but people are still talking about it,” said Heuer.

The LHC: A stronger machine

Just days before the planned restart, CERN has released a video titled “The LHC: A stronger machine” wherein its managers, engineers and operational staff describe the huge engineering effort that went into upgrading the particle collider.

Jean-Philippe Tock and his team led the Superconducting Magnets and Circuits Consolidation project during the shutdown wherein they were focused on consolidating more than 10,000 high-current splices in some 1695 interconnections between magnets in the LHC said CERN.

CERN engineers Anna Chrul and Mirko Pojer describe the work in the tunnel which houses the safety release valves for dispelling helium safely from the magnets; and the process of adding a shunt to each splice within the interconnection to provide an alternate pathway for the 11,000-amp current to safely pass from magnet to magnet in the event of a fault.

Bordry explains the implications of running the accelerator at the higher collision energy of 13 TeV, and mentions some of the requirements for the machine to reach this new energy frontier – such as radiation-resistant electronics and a high-quality vacuum.

Finally Katy Foraz, activities coordinator for LS1 (long shutdown 1), describes the logistical challenges of coordinating the maintenance work. As an example of the scale of the project, she tells us that over this two-year period the access lift to the LHC tunnel went up and down more than 400,000 times!