LHC sets brilliant new record

The world’s biggest atom smasher has set a new world record for luminosity or beam intensity, a key measure of performance and power, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) said on Friday.

On a quest to unlock some of the universe’s deepest secrets, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva collided beams with a luminosity exceeding the mark set last year by the United States Tevetron accelerator, Cern said.

In particle physics, luminosity affects the number of collisions — the higher the luminosity, the more particles are likely to collide.

“Beam intensity is key to the success of the LHC, so this is a very important step,” said Cern Director General Rolf Heuer.

“High intensity means more data, and more data means greater discovery potential,” he said in a statement.

The new record measured a level of luminosity of 467 000 billion billion billion — 467 followed by 30 zeroes — per square centimetre per second, which corresponds to several million particle collisions per second.

Enhanced power boosts the odds of identifying extremely rare sub-atomic particles, especially the elusive Higgs boson, or “God particle”.

Earlier experiments have found most of the tiny and ephemeral matter predicted by the so-called Standard Model of particle physics — except the Higgs boson.

Many scientists believe only the 27km €3.9-billion LHC may be powerful enough to detect it.

The current run of LHC experiments is set to continue through 2012, by which time it should be possible to determine if the Higgs boson truly exists, Cern said.

“There’s a lot of excitement at Cern today, and a tangible feeling that we’re on the threshold of new discovery,” said Serge Bertolucci, Cern’s Director for Research and Scientific Computing.

So far, Cern has cranked the cathedral-sized machine up to energy levels of 7.0-trillion electronvolts (TeV), or 3.5 TeV per beam, more than three times the level attained by any other accelerator.

It is aiming to trigger collisions at 14 TeV — equivalent to 99.99% of the speed of light — in the cryogenically-cooled machine after 2011.

At full throttle, the collisions should create powerful but microscopic bursts of energy that mimic conditions close to the Big Bang.

Even if validated, the Standard Model only accounts for about five percent of energy and matter in the universe.

Dark matter and dark energy are thought to make up the rest, but have yet to be detected. — AFP

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