Updated particle accelerator could reveal new details about the fabric of reality

Updated particle accelerator could reveal new details about the fabric of reality

Faster, better, stronger.

A new phase of operations at the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s largest particle accelerator – is scheduled to begin in a few weeks, just a day after the 10th anniversary of its biggest achievement yet: the discovery of the much sought after Higgs boson.

The reopening of the collider (it has been closed since 2018) is an important event for global science, as what is generally considered one of the greatest scientific experiments ever undertaken has already helped to reveal important details about the fabric of reality.

The Higgs discovery in July 2012 affirmed the Standard Model of Particle Physics, which still prevails as the best explanation of how matter works. But scientists hope the LHC’s latest run will explain even bigger mysteries of existence – including the invisible particles that make up dark matter and why there’s something here.

“We are now ready for the third race,” said Rende Steerenberg, who leads beam operations at CERN, the international organization that manages the LHC – a vast hidden ring of detector tunnels and caverns built underground under fields, trees and cities. on the border of France and Switzerland, over 5 miles in diameter and over 16 miles around.

The LHC has been dormant for over three years, while it has been upgraded with tens of millions of dollars in improvements – the upgraded facility will reach energies of up to 13.6 trillion electron volts (TeV), compared to just 13 TeV in the previous run – and advanced detection equipment to better examine the chaotic explosions within the giant atom-blaster. It is now being tested at low power, and the first experimental crashes of the third race will begin on July 5th.

The LHC uses giant magnets to accelerate beams of protons and atomic nuclei in opposite directions around the underground ring and then bring them together for a series of high-energy collisions near the speed of light. This achieves energies not seen since the universe’s first fractional seconds after the Big Bang.

Studying the remains of such collisions can tell scientists which particles formed in them, even for just a fraction of a second. Scientists theorize that the thousands of collisions carried out inside the LHC every hour will produce at least some of the exotic particles they are looking for.

Steerenberg explained that the latest LHC upgrade is half a step before better detection methods are installed after 2027, when the LHC will operate at full capacity as the “High Luminosity” LHC – its fourth and final incarnation before a particle accelerator. even bigger, the Future Circular Collider, comes into operation after 2040.

The LHC is a crucial tool for physicists. Several unresolved problems remain in theories meant to explain physical reality — some of which date back to the early 20th century — and scientists have suggested a variety of ideas about how it all fits together. Some of these ideas work on paper, but they require the existence of certain particles with particular qualities.

The LHC is the most advanced particle accelerator built to date and is designed to look for these particles and measure them. The results are incorporated into the Standard Model, which describes all known particles (there are currently 31, including the Higgs boson) and three of the four known fundamental forces: the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force, but not gravity. .

In addition to allowing even more accurate measurements of the particles that make up all the matter we see, scientists think the updated LHC could help resolve several anomalies in the Standard Model that have been reported recently.

One of the most intriguing is a discrepancy in the decay of the B meson, a transient particle composed of two types of quarks – the subatomic particles that make up protons and neutrons.

According to the theory, B mesons should decay into electrons and muons – a related class of subatomic particles – with equal rarity. But experiments show that B mesons decay into electrons about 15% more often than into muons, said particle physicist Chris Parkes, who leads the Large Hadron Collider Beauty (LHCb) experiment.

LHCb is named for the “beauty” quark that features prominently in the study of the experiment on the differences between matter and antimatter (quarks can also be classified as “true”, “up”, “down”, “charm” or “strange” ”, depending on its characteristics).

Equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have annihilated in the first few moments of the Big Bang, but that obviously didn’t happen: instead, matter predominates, and the LHCb experiment aims to find out why.

The reported anomaly in the decay of B mesons is related to this issue, Parkes said, and the new LHC run could provide insights into why the anomalous decay is happening.

“There are a lot of different measurements, and interestingly, a lot of them are pointing in the same direction,” he said. “But there’s no ‘smoking gun’ – rather, it’s an intriguing image that has been seen in recent years.”

Another notable anomaly is in the mass of the W boson, a subatomic particle involved in the action of the weak nuclear force that governs some types of radioactivity.

The Standard Model predicts that W bosons have a mass of about 80.357 million electron volts, and this number has been verified in several experiments with particle accelerators.

But a series of precise experiments at the massive Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab near Chicago suggest that the W boson weighs a little more than it should – and that it could point to “new physics” beyond the Standard Model.

Particle physicist Ashutosh Kotwal, a professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who led the research at Fermilab that reported the discrepancy earlier this year, thinks it might be caused by a refinement of the Standard Model called “supersymmetry,” for which there is no firm evidence before now.

Kotwal is also a researcher at the LHC and hopes his updated run will verify that supersymmetry is more than just an idea. “It is possible that the W boson is sensing the existence of supersymmetric particles,” he said.

And if supersymmetry is a principle of the universe, it could explain several other mysteries — such as the nature of the ghostly “dark matter” particles that many physicists think make up about three-quarters of all matter in the universe. .

Although the gravity of dark matter particles explains the structure of galaxies, the particles themselves have never been seen and physicists still cannot explain what they might be.

“If we look for indications of this particle directly at the LHC, that would be a manifestation of potential supersymmetry and it would be a manifestation of dark matter at the same time,” Kotwal said. “That’s the kind of thing I’m pushing.”

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