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LHC: Ready to hunt for the Higgs

The world’s highest-energy particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, has begun its science run for 2012.

2012 First collision

The Large Hadron Collider - collides protons at an energy of 8TeV per beam.

Fine-tuning of the accelerator’s magnet system has allowed the machine to successfully run at an even higher energy than in 2011, colliding protons at an energy of 8TeV (8 trillion electronvolts) per beam. The total stored energy in the LHC beams is now equivalent to the kinetic energy of RMS Titanic steaming at eight knots.

A key goal of the LHC programme is to investigate exceptionally rare quantum processes that may give insight into new laws of fundamental physics. In 2012, the accelerator will also deliver many more collisions per second, with bunches of around 100 billion protons now colliding every 50ns inside the detectors.

The two LHC experiments with Bristol-designed components, LHCb and CMS, are both operating with exceptional efficiency, and producing new results on a regular basis. For the CMS experiment, 2012 is expected to be the year when the existence of the Higgs Boson is either confirmed or finally refuted – assuming that the properties of the Higgs are those predicted in the Standard Model of fundamental physics. Activity will then turn to measuring the properties and interactions of the particle, and identifying new symmetries of nature which prevent the Higgs attaining infinite mass. For LHCb, 2012 will allow the already vast data sample of heavy-flavour quark decays to be increased, allowing the study of exceptionally rare processes which allow sensitivity to a very broad spectrum of new phenomena beyond the Standard Model.

Ten Bristol physicists are currently stationed at CERN full-time, and regular visits to the lab are made by most others in the group. The Bristol team operates and maintains key components of the two experiments, as well as carrying out the detailed data analysis that leads to scientific publications.