CU Faculty, Students Revved Up About Large Hadron Collider Restart

Large Hadron Collider. Image Credit: CERN

Large Hadron Collider. Image Credit: CERN

April 6, 2015 – University of Colorado Boulder faculty and students are primed to get back in action following the Easter restart of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most powerful atom smasher located near Geneva, Switzerland, after a two-year hiatus.

Following intensive upgrades and repairs, proton beams from the LHC once again began flying around a 17-mile underground loop below the Swiss-French border at nearly the speed of light.

In 2012 an international research team — which includes 10 CU-Boulder faculty, students and technicians — used the particle collisions in the LHC to discover the elusive Higgs boson, a particle believed by physicists to endow the universe with mass.

The CU-Boulder high-energy physics team is involved with the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), one of two massive particle detectors in the LHC and which weighs more than 12,500 tons. The CU team helped design and build the CMS forward pixel detectors — the “eyes” of the device — that help researchers measure the direction and momentum of subatomic particles following collisions, providing clues to their origin and structure.

William Ford, who recently retired from CU-Boulder as a physics professor but remains active in the LHC program, said four CU-Boulder graduate students working on the project — Frank Jensen, Andrew Johnson, Mike Krohn and Troy Mulholland — are eager to get their hands on new data.

“They have published papers on earlier LHC data and tuned their techniques, and the real opportunity comes now as the LHS approaches its full design energy,” said Ford.

In addition to Ford, other CU-Boulder faculty and staff involved in the project include CU-Boulder physics Professor John Cumalat, physics Associate Professor Kevin Stenson and physics Professor Attendant Rank Steve Wagner. The CU-Boulder team also includes technical staff members Douglas Johnson and Eric Erdos.

During the LHC’s second run, particles will collide at a staggering 13 teraelectronvolts, which is 60 percent higher than any particle accelerator has achieved before. The particle collisions, hundreds of millions of them every second, are expected to lead scientists into unexplored realms of physics and could yield extraordinary insights into the nature of the physical universe.

“As we increase the energy we will certainly learn more about the properties of the Higgs particle, and maybe there will be other Higgs particles,” said Cumalat. “The next couple of years of accumulating and analyzing data should be very exciting.”

Fifteen years in the making, the $10 billion LHC involves an estimated 10,000 people from 60 countries, including more than 1,700 scientists, engineers and technicians from 94 American universities supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.