Housed in a 27 kilometre tunnel beneath the French-Swiss border near Geneva, the LHC is the world's largest and most complex scientific instrument. Experiments at the LHC will allow physicists to complete a journey that started with Newton's description of gravity. Gravity acts on mass, but so far science is unable to explain why the fundamental particles have the masses they have.
Experiments at the LHC may provide the answer. LHC experiments will also search for the mysterious missing mass and dark energy of the Universe – visible matter seems to account for just 4% of what must exist. They will investigate the reason for nature's preference for matter over antimatter, and they will probe matter as it existed at the very beginning of time.
As 2006 draws to a close, some 80% of the LHC’s magnets, the main components of the new machine, were installed underground and a complete sector of the machine was being prepared for cool-down to its operating temperature of just 1.9 degrees above absolute zero, colder than outer space. “Although just one eighth of the LHC,” said CERN Director General Robert Aymar, “this sector will be the world’s largest cryogenic installation when it is cooled down early next year.”
Progress is equally impressive for the four large experiments preparing to take data with the LHC’s colliding particle beams. Named ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb, all are striving to be ready for first collisions late in 2007.
When data flow from the experiments gets up to speed, it will be produced at a prodigious rate, reaching close to one percent of the world’s information production rate. Handling this amount of data demands a new approach to distributed computing, called the Grid. In 2006, the LHC computing grid began offering a baseline service to the LHC community, right on schedule for a full service to begin in 2007.
The year 2006 has been a busy, but exciting, one for CERN. As it draws to a close, the LHC project is in good shape. Hurdles have been overcome, and the project is proceeding smoothly towards collisions in the LHC by this time next year.
Renilde Vanden Broeck | alfa
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