European Scientists prepare to test the limits of Physics
European Scientists are gearing up for a series of experiments that will probe deeper into the nature of matter than ever before. At the end of August the Scientific Information Port (PIC), a centre for technology based at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) began work on the first stage of the European project Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The aim of the project is to study the origins of matter by reproducing conditions similar to those produced during the Big Bang. The PIC, as well as other computational centres around the world, began receiving data concerning cosmic rays collected using Atlas, a large ‘‘general purpose’’ particle detector. This information is to be used to test the system before the LHC starts up in the spring of 2008.
A view inside the LHC tunnel at CERN.
This exercise was the first time that data from the LHC was sent in real time to centres outside of CERN and information regarding ten million events (particle collisions) has been stored. Once the data has been processed it will be used to test the acquisition, distribution and detection systems and to refine the calibration parameters of the detector before it begins operation in April 2008. The data originates from experiments on particle acceleration and collision.
The LHC project will be undertaken by the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), located near Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC is expected to become the world’s largest particle accelerator and is contained in a 27 kilometre circumference underground tunnel straddling the border between France and Switzerland. Within the tunnel two pipes are enclosed with superconducting magnets, cooled by liquid helium. Each pipe contains a proton beam which travel in opposite directions around the ring. The proton beams will be accelerated at velocities close to the speed of light and made to collide using additional magnets.
The collision creates conditions of extremely high density energy, similar to those of the first moments of our universe, the Big Bang. In this way, scientists can study the origin of matter and test the validity of the Standard Model of particle physics, which is used to explain the behaviour of elemental particles.
When high energy particles collide, enormous amounts of data are produced which are detected by four pieces of apparatus. The detectors then send the information to a number of computational centres located across the world where the data is stored and processed. The PIC is one such place where UAB, the Centre for Energy, Environmental and technological Research (CIEMAT), the Generalitat of Catalonia and the Institute of High Energy Physics (IFAE) all participate.