LHC Status Update

February 01, 2010

Schedule for the LHC

It appears that a schedule for the first major run of the LHC has been reached. The particle collider, after more than a year of delays that resulted from the quenching of a magnet in the fall of 2008, had its first proton-proton collisions late last year. In doing so, it became the most energetic particle collider in the world, barely beating out the Tevatron at Fermi Lab in Illinois. In December of 2009, the LHC collided two protons with a total center of mass energy of a bit over 1 TeV (meaning each proton had slightly more than .5 TeV when they hit each other head on).

However, the initial design for the machine was to collide particles with a total energy og 14 TeV (7 TeV protons colliding with 7 TeV protons). However, engineers no longer trust the magnets that are currently in place to sustain that level of energy without failing as they did about about a year and a half ago. A major overhaul of the machine will be required before it can reach full design specifications, and such a renovation could take over a year. As a compromise, the LHC has decided upon the following schedule:

There will be a run of 7 TeV collisions (3.5 TeV on 3.5 TeV) that will last one to one and a half years. The goal of this run will be to obtain 1 fb-1 of data (that unit is pronounced an inverse fempto-barn. Its a strange unit that represents the total number of protons that are shot near each other, taking account the size of the proton bunches and the frequency with which they hit each other).

After achieving 1 fb-1, the machine will be shut down for about a year for upgrades, after which it will aim for 14 TeV collisions.

The initial run of 1 fb-1 is not a very large amount of data, but it could prove fruitful if certain theories are correct. It does NOT provide enough statistics for most searches aimed at discovering the Higgs Boson. However, it could potentially yield discoveries of supersymetric particles (if they exist) and could create some other exotics. Most likely, however, it will be used to tune the machine and rediscover the standard model particles that have been found elsewhere, such as the Top quark.

So, the news is a bit disappointing for those who are looking to discover the Higgs. It appears that we will have to wait several years before a serious push toward Higgs discovery can be mounted. However, there is still plenty of potential for interesting physics over the next year. Maybe well get very lucky, or maybe well just spend a lot of time calibrating our machine and learning what we already know.