Ever since I learned about particle physics I’ve always been interested in how the research was being done to advance our understanding of the universe. Nowadays, it’s harder for individual scientists to make discoveries in particle physics. Unfortunately, it requires a lot of energy and advanced technologies to find particles. Particle accelerators are usually operated by many scientists and the analysis of data is conducted by teams of scientists. So I wanted to explore how data is acquired by particle accelerators to discover exotic particles.
Coming in at 27 km long, the largest particle accelerator is located underground on the border between Switzerland and France. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is part of CERN’s accelerator complex. In addition, CERN stands for the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
Essentially, modern particle accelerators are just a very large ring. Particles speed up and collide with each other. The collisions of heavier particles produce more particles that may be fundamental. Furthermore, physicists use the data gathered by particle collisions to test a theory.
Very large electromagnets are used to generate extremely strong electromagnetic fields. Electromagnetic fields accelerate subatomic particles almost to the speed of light and guide them around the accelerator. Additionally, the particles travel in beams going around the ring until they collide with another beam of particles heading in the opposite direction. To add on, particles travel in a vacuum chamber so they don’t collide with other unwanted particles in the way.
Large Hadron Collider
Different accelerators use different types of particles depending on what research is being conducted and what the accelerator is meant for. The collider I find most interesting, the LHC, accelerates protons and it was where the Higgs Boson was first observed.
In the LHC, superconducting electromagnetics cooled at around -271 degrees Celsius accelerate protons. On July 4, 2012, CERN announced that they have detected a particle that had been theorized by Peter Higgs in the 1960s. Many people were excited because the Higgs Boson was just discovered 4 years after the LHC went back into operation.
To sum up, circular particle accelerators like the LHC speed particles almost up to the speed of light using superconducting electromagnets. As beams of particles are going around the accelerator they collide forming or decomposing particles into other particles. Particle detectors detect the collisions. Then physicists can use the data from detectors to support a theory or gather evidence for the existence of a new particle.