Sep. 10, 2008 Scientists today sent the first beam of protons zooming at nearly the speed of light around the 17-mile Large Hadron Collider. The LHC, located at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, is the world's most powerful particle accelerator.
The Boston Muon Consortium (BMC), an unprecedented collaboration of high-energy physicists from Brandeis, Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Tufts, and UMass Amherst, are among an estimated 10,000 people from 60 countries who have helped design and build the accelerator and its massive particle detectors. The BMC worked on the ATLAS detector, the biggest of the experiments on the LHC.
To celebrate the event, Harvard physicist John Huth will give a free public lecture to discuss how the LHC works today at 4 p.m. at 453 Jefferson Hall, 17 Oxford Street, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
The first circulating beam is a major accomplishment on the way to the ultimate goal: high-energy beams colliding in the centers of the LHC's particle detectors. BMC scientists and others participating in these experiments will analyze these collisions in search of extraordinary discoveries about the nature of the physical universe. Beyond revealing a new world of unknown particles, the LHC experiments could explain why those particles exist and behave as they do. They could reveal the origins of mass, shed light on dark matter, uncover hidden symmetries of the universe, and possibly find extra dimensions of space.
A powerful collaboration of Boston scientific talent, the BMC designed, constructed, and assembled the endcap muon system, a crucial part of the LHC. Muons are like electrons but are 200 times as heavy and able to penetrate through the large amounts of matter contained inside the ATLAS detector. Starting in 1994, the BMC began the challenging and technically daunting work to design and build a precision endcap muon system for ATLAS to capture the muon particles that scientists believe are signatures of interesting events, potentially shedding light on fundamental questions of nature.
"We hope that the LHC will bring us a deeper understanding of our universe," said Brandeis physicist James Bensinger. "We know that our theories are incomplete; we know something is missing. Where does mass come from? What are the basic laws of physics that describe the universe, and the basic building blocks of matter, and how do they interact with each other?"
For BMC physicists, the excitement about the first beam event is unparalleled. "For much of my career, starting in the early 70's, the standard model of high-energy physics has worked marvelously well but some of its foundations still remained untested," said MIT physicist Frank Taylor. "Theoretical physicists have been very creative over the last three and a half decades with many beautiful ideas which are mathematically consistent but may not represent nature. Now we have an instrument to check these theories and perhaps to find something not even dreamed of. We're very excited!"
Huth added, "After years of working together on this, we're finally ready to rock and roll. The energy range we're about to explore is something that I've been waiting for all of my professional life. It's that important."
In the U.S., more than 1,700 scientists, engineers, students, and technicians from 94 universities and laboratories have been supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Science Foundation to set in motion the greatest physics experiment of all time.
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