The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest atom smasher, has succeeding in producing the first proton collisions, just three days after it was restarted following repairs.

By Aislinn Laing – The Telegraph


Cern scientists have hailed the first proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider as a “great achievement”.

Scientists working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern), hailed the development as a “great achievement” and a major step towards mimicking the conditions that followed the Big Bang to unlock the secrets of the universe.

The low-energy collisions came unexpectedly after researchers managed for the first time to circulate two beams around the 27-kilometre (16.8 mile) tunnel 100m beneath the Franco-Swiss border for the first time on Monday.

Physicists working at the facility told how there was standing room only to watch the results and cheers erupted with the first collisions.

The world’s largest machine was first launched in September 2008 amid an international fanfare which saw the world’s media invited to the facility to make sense of the epic experiment.

But just nine days later, the £5bn LHC suffered a spectacular failure from a bad electrical connection. Fifty-three of 1,624 large superconducting magnets – some of them 50 feet long – were damaged and had to be replaced.

Just weeks ago, an element of comedy was introduced after it emerged that further problems had been caused by a small piece of baguette dropped by a passing bird which landed in a piece of equipment on the surface above the accelerator ring.

After 14 months of repairs, the giant machine was restarted on Friday evening and the first beam started circulating in a clockwise direction around the tunnel about 10pm.

By Monday, the operators were able to move onto the next stage of circulating two beams with the hope of generating a collision. Early in the afternoon, the beams crossed for the first time, then a second time later in the evening.

At present, the beams are being circulated at low-intensity to minimise any damage in the event of an accident. The true test will come as scientists provoke high-energy atom particle collisions and begin to analyse in earnest the fall out from the proton collisions in the months to come.

Ultimately, the collider aims to create conditions like they were one trillionth to two trillionths of a second after the Big Bang, which scientists think marked the creation of the universe billions of years ago. Physicists also hope the collider will help them see and understand other suspected phenomena, such as dark matter, antimatter and supersymmetry.

Cern’s Director General Rolf Heuer said yesterday’s collisions were actually the side effect of the quick advances being made by the LHC during its startup phase.

He said that the scientists would be proceeding cautiously, just a driver would with the first production model of a new car.

“We’ll never accelerate this the first time with a kick-start to its maximum velocity,” he said. “It’s a great achievement to have come this far in so short a time. But we need to keep a sense of perspective – there’s still much to do before we can start the LHC physics programme.”

David Barney, a physicist working at Cern said: “It’s quite amazing really, we never expected this to go so quickly. We’re incredibly pleased, everything seems to be working excellently. The LHC hasn’t actually accelerated particles yet – it hasn’t made them go any faster than they were when they came into the tunnel.

“Cern intends to collide them at higher energy next week. It’s going incredibly well and we don’t really know what to expect next.”