The Large Hadron Collider is the largest, most powerful particle accelerator in the world. It steers beams of particles on a collision course around a 17-mile ring located 300 feet beneath the border of Switzerland and France. Experiments at the LHC seek a greater understanding of nature by searching for new phenomena and particles—such as the recently discovered Higgs boson—and by investigating the properties of the particles and forces we know.
For almost two decades, Fermilab and its scientists have played a significant role in the LHC and particularly in the CMS experiment. Fermilab also provides scientific, technical and organizational support for the 630 scientists and graduate students from 47 US universities and laboratories that participate in the 2,600-member international CMS collaboration.
Scientists working on the CMS experiment, together with scientists from the ATLAS experiment, announced the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. Today they continue their forefront research, using particle collisions to investigate the properties of the Higgs boson and other particles and forces.
When accelerated particles collide in the LHC, their energy converts briefly to mass, which can produce particles not seen in abundance since just after the big bang. These particles quickly decay, releasing their energy in the form of lighter particles, which themselves may decay into even lighter particles. All of this takes place in a split second, but CMS and three other giant particle detectors built around the LHC collision points record data that allow scientists to piece together what happened. The LHC collides hundreds of millions of particles per second. Scientists create software that selects only the most interesting collisions, and they use those collisions to pick out difficult-to-uncover particles and phenomena.
Fermilab participated in the construction of the LHC accelerator and the CMS detector, contributing critical components such as the powerful magnets that focus beams into collision and many segments of the complex, 13,000-ton CMS detector. Fermilab scientists and engineers, in close collaboration with other US research groups, are also actively building components for and conducting R&D towards future LHC accelerator and detector upgrades.
Fermilab hosts one of 11 Tier-1 computing centers that process data for the CMS experiment and support the research activities of scientists across the country and around the world. It also hosts a Remote Operations Center, where more than 100 scientists conduct thousands of hours of remote shifts for the CMS experiment each year, and the LHC Physics Center, a hub for CMS physics in the United States.
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Photo (black and white): first construction of the linear accelerator at SLAC
In 1962, in the rolling hills west of Stanford University, construction began on the longest and straightest structure in the world. The linear particle accelerator – first dubbed Project M and affectionately known as “the Monster” to the scientists who conjured it – would accelerate electrons to nearly the speed of light for groundbreaking experiments in creating, identifying and studying subatomic particles.
Stanford University leased the land to the federal government for the new Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and provided the brainpower for the project, setting the stage for a productive and unique scientific partnership that continues today, made possible by the sustained support and oversight of the U.S. Department of Energy.
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Cassini at Saturn’s bow shock
This artist’s impression by the European Space Agency shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft exploring the magnetic environment of Saturn. The image is not to scale. Saturn’s magnetosphere is depicted in grey, while the complex bow shock region – the shock wave in the solar wind that surrounds the magnetosphere – is shown in blue.
While crossing the bow shock on Feb. 3, 2007, Cassini recorded a particularly strong shock in a “quasi-parallel” orientation, where the magnetic field and the direction of the front of the shock’s movement are almost aligned. Under these conditions, significant particle acceleration was detected for the first time. The findings provide insight into particle acceleration at the shocks surrounding the remnants of stellar explosions.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.