The Large Hadron Collider

The LHC is the largest machine in the world. It took thousands of scientists, engineers and technicians decades to plan and build, and it continues to operate at the very boundaries of scientific knowledge.

12 12, 2014

Run 2 of the LHC follows a 2-year technical stop that prepared the machine for running at almost double the energy of the LHC’s first run, producing 13 TeV collisions, an energy never achieved by any accelerator in the past.

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13 05, 2015

Published in Nature, the CMS and LHCb collaborations describe the first observation of the very rare decay of the B0s particle into two muon particles. The Standard Model, the theory that best describes the world of particles, predicts that this rare subatomic process happens about four times out of a billion decays, but it has never been seen before. These decays are studied as they could open a window to theories beyond the Standard Model, such as supersymmetry. The analysis is based on data taken at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2011 and 2012. These data also contain early hints of a similar, but even more rare decay into two muons of the B0, a cousin of the B0s.

The B0s and B0 are mesons, in other words, non-elementary unstable subatomic particles composed of a quark and an antiquark, bound together by the strong interaction. Such particles are produced only in high-energy collisions – at particle accelerators, or in nature, for example in cosmic-ray interactions.

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10 08, 2016

In a paper published by the journal JHEP, the MoEDAL experiment at CERN narrows the window of where to search for a hypothetical particle, the magnetic monopole. Such particles were first predicted by physicist Paul Dirac in the 1930s, but have never been observed so far.

Just as electricity comes with two charges, positive and negative, so magnetism comes with two poles, North and South. The difference is that while it’s easy to isolate a positive or negative electric charge, nobody has ever seen a solitary magnetic charge, or monopole. If you take a bar magnet and cut it in half, you end up with two smaller bar magnets, each with a North and South pole. Yet theory suggests that magnetism could be a property of elementary particles. So just as electrons carry negative electric charge and protons carry positive charge, so magnetic monopoles could in theory carry a North or a South pole.

If monopoles exist, they are believed to be very massive. As the LHC produces collisions at unprecedented energy, physicists may be able to observe such particles if they are light enough to be in the LHC’s reach. For instance, high-energy photon–photon interactions could produce pairs of North and South monopoles. Monopoles could manifest their presence via their magnetic charge and through their very high ionizing power, estimated to be about 4700 times higher than that of the protons. The MoEDAL experiment at the LHC is designed specifically to look at these effects.

Although showing no evidence for trapped monopoles, the results have allowed the MoEDAL collaboration to place new mass limits, assuming a simple production mode of these hypothetical particles. 

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Magnetic monopoles and dipoles
Magnetic monopoles and dipoles (Image: CERN) (Image: CERN)
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24 04, 2017

In a paper published in Nature Physics, the ALICE collaboration reports that proton collisions sometimes present similar patterns to those observed in the collisions of heavy nuclei. This behaviour was spotted through observation of so-called strange hadrons in certain proton collisions in which a large number of particles are created. Strange hadrons are well-known particles with names such as Kaon, Lambda, Xi and Omega, all containing at least one so-called strange quark. The observed ‘enhanced production of strange particles’ is a familiar feature of quark-gluon plasma, a very hot and dense state of matter that existed just a few millionths of a second after the Big Bang, and is commonly created in collisions of heavy nuclei. But it is the first time ever that such a phenomenon is unambiguously observed in the rare proton collisions in which many particles are created. 

“We are very excited about this discovery,” said Federico Antinori, Spokesperson of the ALICE collaboration. “We are again learning a lot about this primordial state of matter. Being able to isolate the quark-gluon-plasma-like phenomena in a smaller and simpler system, such as the collision between two protons, opens up an entirely new dimension for the study of the properties of the fundamental state that our universe emerged from.”

The study of the quark-gluon plasma provides a way to investigate the properties of strong interaction, one of the four known fundamental forces, while enhanced strangeness production is a manifestation of this state of matter. The quark-gluon plasma is produced at sufficiently high temperature and energy density, when ordinary matter undergoes a transition to a phase in which quarks and gluons become ‘free’ and are thus no longer confined within hadrons. These conditions can be obtained at the Large Hadron Collider by colliding heavy nuclei at high energy. Strange quarks are heavier than the quarks composing normal matter, and typically harder to produce. But this changes in presence of the high energy density of the quark-gluon plasma, which rebalances the creation of strange quarks relative to non-strange ones. This phenomenon may now have been observed within proton collisions as well.

In particular, the new results show that the production rate of these strange hadrons increases with the ‘multiplicity’ – the number of particles produced in a given collision – faster than that of other particles generated in the same collision. While the structure of the proton does not include strange quarks, data also show that the higher the number of strange quarks contained in the induced hadron, the stronger is the increase of its production rate. No dependence on the collision energy or the mass of the generated particles is observed, demonstrating that the observed phenomenon is related to the strange quark content of the particles produced. Strangeness production is in practice determined by counting the number of strange particles produced in a given collision, and calculating the ratio of strange to non-strange particles.

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Enhanced production of multi-strange hadrons in high-multiplicity proton-proton collisions in ALICE experiment
As the number of particles produced in proton collisions (the blue lines) increase, the more of these so-called strange hadrons are seen (as shown by the red squares in the graph). (Image: CERN) (Image: CERN)
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06 07, 2017

At the EPS Conference on High Energy Physics in Venice, the LHCb experiment reports the observation of Ξcc++  (Xicc++), a new particle containing two charm quarks and one up quark. The existence of this particle from the baryon family was expected by current theories, but physicists were looking for such baryons with two heavy quarks for many years. The mass of the newly identified particle is about 3621 MeV, which is almost four times heavier than the most familiar baryon, the proton, a property that arises from its doubly charmed quark content. It is the first time that such a particle has been unambiguously detected.

Nearly all the matter that we see around us is made of baryons, which are common particles composed of three quarks, the best-known being protons and neutrons. But there are six types of existing quarks, and theoretically many different potential combinations could form other kinds of baryons. Baryons so far observed are all made of, at most, one heavy quark.

Finding a doubly heavy-quark baryon is of great interest as it will provide a unique tool to further probe quantum chromodynamics, the theory that describes the strong interaction, one of the four fundamental forces,” said Giovanni Passaleva, Spokesperson of the LHCb collaboration. “Such particles will thus help us improve the predictive power of our theories.”

In contrast to other baryons, in which the three quarks perform an elaborate dance around each other, a doubly heavy baryon is expected to act like a planetary system, where the two heavy quarks play the role of heavy stars orbiting one around the other, with the lighter quark orbiting around this binary system,” added Guy Wilkinson, former Spokesperson of the collaboration.

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03 06, 2015
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From an update on the CERN website: 

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) started delivering physics data today for the first time in 27 months. After an almost two year shutdown and several months re-commissioning, the LHC is now providing collisions to all of its experiments at the unprecedented energy of 13 TeV, almost double the collision energy of its first run. This marks the start of season 2 at the LHC, opening the way to new discoveries. The LHC will now run round the clock for the next three years.

“With the LHC back in the collision-production mode, we celebrate the end of two months of beam commissioning,” said CERN Director of Accelerators and Technology Frédérick Bordry. “It is a great accomplishment and a rewarding moment for all of the teams involved in the work performed during the long shutdown of the LHC, in the powering tests and in the beam commissioning process. All these people have dedicated so much of their time to making this happen.”

Today at 10.40am, the LHC operators declared “stable beams”, the signal for the LHC experiments that they can start taking data. Beams are made of “trains” of proton bunches moving at almost the speed of light around the 27 kilometre ring of the LHC. These so-called bunch trains circulate in opposite directions, guided by powerful superconducting magnets. Today the LHC was filled with 6 bunches each containing around 100 billion protons. This rate will be progressively increased as the run goes on to 2808 bunches per beam, allowing the LHC to produce up to 1 billion collisions per second.

For more information see the live blog that covered events as they unfolded.

See a gallery of images from the day.

Added 5 June: 

Watch a recording of the webcast from the day

Webcast: Q & A session

08 10, 2013
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François Englert (left) and Peter Higgs at CERN on 4 July 2012, on the occasion of the announcement of the discovery of a Higgs boson by the ATLAS and CMS experiments (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN)


On 8 October 2013, CERN congratulates François Englert and Peter W. Higgs on the award of the Nobel Prize in physics “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.”

The Brout-Englert-Higgs (BEH) mechanism was first proposed in 1964 in two independently published papers: the first by Belgian physicists Robert Brout and François Englert, and the second by British physicist Peter Higgs. It explains how the force responsible for beta decay is much weaker than electromagnetism, but is better known as the mechanism that endows fundamental particles with mass. A third paper, published by Americans Gerald Guralnik and Carl Hagen with their British colleague Tom Kibble further contributed to the development of the new idea, which now forms an essential part of the Standard Model of particle physics. As was pointed out by Higgs, a key prediction of the idea is the existence of a massive boson of a new type, which was discovered by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN in 2012.

05 04, 2012
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(image: event recorded with the CMS detector in 2012 at a proton-proton centre of mass energy of 8TeV)

On 5 April 2012, LHC physics data taking gets underway at a new record collision energy of 8TeV. The LHC declares "stable beams" as two 4 TeV proton beams are brought into collision at the LHC’s four interaction points. This signals the start of physics data taking by the LHC experiments for 2012.  The collision energy of 8 TeV is a new world record, and increases the machine’s discovery potential considerably.

“The experience of two good years of running at 3.5 TeV per beam gave us the confidence to increase the energy for this year without any significant risk to the machine,” says CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “Now it’s over to the experiments to make the best of the increased discovery potential we’re delivering them!”

Although the increase in collision energy is relatively modest, it translates to an increased discovery potential that can be several times higher for certain hypothetical particles. Some such particles, for example those predicted by supersymmetry, would be produced much more copiously at the higher energy. Supersymmetry is a theory in particle physics that goes beyond the current Standard Model, and could account for the dark matter of the universe.

18 10, 2011
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On 18 October 2011, the grand total of data delivered by the LHC during the year reaches almost six inverse femtobarns. At the beginning of the year’s run, the objective for the LHC was to deliver a quantity of data known to physicists as one inverse femtobarn – approximately 100 trillion (102) proton-proton collisions - during the course of 2011. The first inverse femtobarn came on 17 June, setting the experiments up well for the major physics conferences of the summer and requiring the 2011 data objective to be revised upwards to five inverse femtobarns. This milestone is passed on 18 October.

“At the end of this year’s proton running, the LHC is reaching cruising speed,” says CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “To put things in context, the present data production rate is a factor of 4 million higher than in the first run in 2010 and a factor of 30 higher than at the beginning of 2011.”

28 02, 2010
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After a short technical stop, beams circulate again on 28 February 2010. On 19 March 2010, two 3.5 TeV proton beams successfully circulate in the Large Hadron Collider for the first time. This is the highest energy yet achieved in a particle accelerator and an important step on the way to the start of the LHC research programme.