After 'God particle' breakthrough, CERN readies for next cosmic quest
By Jonathan Fowler, AFP
August 5, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
GENEVA--A year ago, the world's largest particle collider made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science, identifying what is believed to be the Higgs Boson — the long-sought maker of mass.
Today, its computer screens are dark, the control desks unstaffed and the giant, supercooled tunnel empty of the crashing proton beams whose snapshots of the Big Bang helped flush out the elusive particle.
But the silence is an illusion.
Behind the scenes, work is pushing ahead to give the vast machine a mighty upgrade, enabling it to advance the frontiers of knowledge even further.
The 27-kilometer circular lab, straddling the French-Swiss border 100 meters underground, went offline in February for an 18-month overhaul.
And when experiments resume in 2015, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) will use its enhanced power to probe dark matter, dark energy and supersymmetry — ideas considered as wild as the Higgs Boson was, half a century ago.
As engineers focus on the technical mission, physicists are sifting through the mountains of data that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has churned out since 2010, for there could be more nuggets to find.
"The things that are easy to spot have already been exploited, and now we're taking another look," said Tiziano Camporesi of CERN, noting wryly that dealing with the unknown was, well, unknowable.
"We always say that astronomers have an easier task, because they can actually see what they're looking for!"
The LHC's particle collisions transform energy into mass, the goal being to find fundamental particles in the sub-atomic debris that help us to understand the Universe.
At peak capacity, the "old" LHC managed a mind-boggling 550 million collisions per second.