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LHC: New Answers to Old Fundamental Questions

Context:

The world’s most powerful particle collider, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), will begin smashing protons into each other at unprecedented levels of energy beginning July 5.

Scientists will record and analyse the data, which are expected to throw up evidence of “new physics” — or physics beyond the Standard Model of Particle Physics, which explains how the basic building blocks of matter interact, governed by four fundamental forces.

Relevance:

GS Paper3Science and Technology (Recent developments and their applications and effects in everyday life, Achievements of Indians in science & technology.)

Mains Questions:

The third run of the Large Hadron Collider, which discovered an elementary particle earlier in investigations, has begun. In 2013, the scientist who predicted this particle in 1964 was given the Nobel Prize. What exactly is this discovery?  

Dimension of the article:

  • The extent of Particle Physics
  • Existence of God’s Particle
  •  Mechanism of LHC
  • India’s presence in Global S&T Projects

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

  • The Large Hadron Collider is massive, sophisticated equipment designed to explore the smallest known building blocks of all things, particles.
  • It is a 27-kilometre-long track-loop buried 100 metres underground on the Swiss-French border.
  •  The particle accelerator complex that houses the LHC runs by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (originally Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or CERN, in French).
  •  CERN is the world’s largest nuclear and particle physics laboratory.

The Mechanism

  • In its operational state, it discharges two beams of protons in opposite directions virtually at the speed of light inside a ring of superconducting electromagnets.
  • The magnetic field formed by the superconducting electromagnets holds the protons in a tight beam and guides them through-beam pipes before colliding.
  • “Just before the collision, another sort of magnet is employed to squeeze the particles closer together, increasing the likelihood of collisions.” The particles are so small that getting them to collide is like firing two needles 10 kilometres apart with such precision that they meet halfway.“
  • The LHC’s enormous electromagnets must be maintained cold since they carry nearly as much current as a bolt of lightning.
  • The LHC employs a liquid helium distribution system to maintain its key components ultracold at minus 271.3 degrees Celsius, which is colder than interstellar space. Given these constraints, it is difficult to warm up or cool down the massive machine.

The New Start

  • The collider was restarted in April, three years after it had been shut down for maintenance and improvements. This is the LHC’s third run, and beginning on July 5, it will run continuously for four years at unprecedented energy levels of 13 tera electron volts (TeV).
  •  “It is hoped that the ATLAS and CMS experiments will deliver 1.6 billion proton-proton collisions per second.”
  • To boost the collision rate, the proton beams will be shrunk to less than 10 microns — a human hair is about 70 microns thick — he said.

(A TeV is 100 billion, or 10-to-the-power-of-12, electron volts. An electron volt is an energy given to an electron by accelerating it through 1 volt of electric potential difference.)

(ATLAS is the largest general-purpose particle detector experiment at the LHC; the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment is one of the largest international scientific collaborations in history, with the same goals as ATLAS, but which uses a different magnet-system design.)

Previous runs & discovery of ‘God Particle’

  • On July 4, 2012, scientists at CERN announced to the world the finding of the Higgs boson, also known as the “God Particle,” during the first run of the LHC.
  •  The discovery ended a decades-long search for the ‘force-carrying’ subatomic particle and established the existence of the Higgs mechanism, a theory proposed in the mid-1960s.
  • This resulted in Peter Higgs and his partner François Englert receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013.
  • The Higgs boson and its associated energy field are thought to have played an important role in the formation of the cosmos.
  • The second run (Run 2) of the LHC began in 2015 and lasted until 2018. The second season of data collection provided five times as much data as Run 1.
  • When compared to Run 1, the third run will have 20 times more collisions.

 ‘New Physics’

  • Following the discovery of the Higgs boson, scientists began to use the data gathered as a tool to investigate beyond the Standard Model, which is currently the best theory of the universe’s most elementary building elements and their interactions.
  • CERN scientists said they have no idea what Run 3 will show; the hope is that the collisions will help them grasp so-called “dark matter.”
  • This elusive, hoped-for particle is thought to make up the majority of the universe, but it is absolutely invisible because it does not absorb, reflect, or emit light.

India and CERN

  • India joined the European Organisation for Nuclear Research as an associate member in 2016. (CERN).
  • India has a long history with CERN, having actively participated in the construction of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the fields of design, development, and supply of hardware accelerator components/systems, as well as commissioning and software development and deployment in the machine.
  • In 2004, India was admitted as an ‘Observer’ at CERN. Its promotion to associate member status enables Indian companies to compete for lucrative engineering contracts and Indians to apply for staff positions within the organisation.
  • Indian scientists were instrumental in the A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE) and Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment (CMS) investigations that contributed to the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

Way forward:

  • Particle physics investigates nature at extreme scales in order to comprehend the fundamental elements of matter. Particles communicate with one other in line with interactions through fundamental forces, just as language and vocabulary guide (and constrain) our speech.
  • The patterns in the emission of these particles help us understand their properties and structure.
  • The prediction must be tested because the outcome will either support the Standard Model — which is based on the idea that the Higgs field gives quarks and other fundamental particles mass — or shake its foundations and point to new physics.
  • Experiments like these allow physicists to not only validate but also dispute what the Standard Model predicts about the Higgs boson and bottom quarks.

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