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article image'New era' in physics as world's biggest particle smasher cranks up

By Abhik CHANDA (AFP)     Jun 3, 2015 in Science

Scientists on Wednesday hailed a "new era" in their quest to unravel more mysteries of the universe as the world's biggest particle smasher started experiments with nearly doubled energy levels in a key breakthrough.

The tests at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) came after a sweeping two-year revamp of the collider and will help scientists to study fundamental particles, the building blocks of all matter, and the forces that control them.

During its next run, researchers will look for evidence of "new physics" and probe "supersymmetry" -- a theoretical concept informally dubbed Susy; seek explanations for enigmatic dark matter and look for signs of extra dimensions.

Wednesday's collisions of 13 teraelectonvolts (TeV) followed a muscling of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), used in 2012 to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson -- which confers mass and is also known as the God particle.

CERN said everything went according to plan at the giant lab, a 27-kilometre (17-mile) ring-shaped tunnel straddling the French-Swiss border.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC)
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC)
P. Pizarro / S. Ramis / G. Handy, gil/jfs, AFP

During what it dubbed as its "Season Two", the LHC will in the course of the next three years strive to fill gaps in the so-called "Standard Model" -- the mainstream theory of how the visible Universe was created but which does not explain dark matter.

"It is time for new physics!" declared CERN's outgoing director general Rolf Heuer.

"We have seen the first data beginning to flow. Let’s see what they will reveal to us about how our universe works," he said.

- Unlocking nature's secrets -

"It's not going to happen tomorrow, be patient," he said, as scientists monitoring the event broke into sustained applause and uncorked champagne.

On May 20, the LHC broke the record for energy levels colliding protons at 13 TeV -- or 99.9 percent of the speed of light -- for the first time.

The LHC's previous highest energy for collisions was eight TeV, reached in 2012 before it closed for the upgrade.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) recently broke the record for energy levels colliding protons at 13 ...
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) recently broke the record for energy levels colliding protons at 13 teraelectonvolts (TeV)
Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/File

"The collisions we are seeing today indicate that the work we have done in the past two years to prepare and improve our detector has been successful and marks the beginning of a new era of exploration of the secrets of nature," said Tiziano Camporesi, a spokesman for the project.

The LHC was used to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson, a discovery that earned the 2013 Nobel physics prize for two of the scientists who had theorised the existence of the Higgs back in 1964.

The LHC allows beams containing billions of protons to shoot through the massive collider in opposite directions.

Powerful magnets bend the beams so that they collide at points around the track where four laboratories have batteries of sensors to monitor the smashups.

The sub-atomic rubble is then scrutinised for novel particles and the forces that hold them together.

One teraelectronvolt is roughly equivalent to the energy of motion of a flying mosquito, CERN says on its website.

But within the LHC, the energy is squeezed into an extremely small space -- about a million, million times smaller than a mosquito. It is this intensity which causes the particles to be smashed apart.

"It will allow us to follow up on puzzles from our Run 1 studies, and to probe with higher sensitivity the difference in behaviour between matter and antimatter," said Guy Wilkinson, a spokesman for one of LHC's four experiments.

Ordinary, visible matter comprises only about four percent of the known universe.

There is believed to be five to 10 times more dark matter, which together with equally mysterious dark energy accounts for 96 percent of the cosmos.

As part of the two-year recommissioning process, LHC engineers successfully introduced two proton beams, the source material for sub-atomic smashups.

With the upgrade, the LHC can potentially be cranked up to a maximum 14 TeV.

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