The LHC has only had collisions for a little over a month now, and I’m as excited as the next scientist about the new data that is coming in. With it we will hopefully be able to push existing boundaries in new ways. The detectors are running well and I think that is a testament to all of the years that went into their development. (Even if some of those years weren’t planned.)
For my first US LHC blog post, I want to write about something I’ve been working on. Even though things are looking rosy right now, I’m in the business of improvement. I work on the hadronic calorimeter (HCAL for short) for the CMS detector. It is a large heavy detector system charged with trying to stop any hadrons (pions, kaons, protons, neutrons, etc.) from the collisions and measure their energy. The CMS calorimeter is a sandwich of brass and plastic scintillator planes. We measure the energy of the hadrons based on the amount of light we collect from the scintillator material.
Here is where the improvement comes in. The HCAL design was essentially finalized in 1997. That’s right 13 years ago. And this was after several years of R&D to come up with a good design. It then had to be manufactured and installed to be ready for what has been a very exciting commencement to data taking.
In the years since the HCAL was specified and built, new and exciting technologies have emerged that could potentially improve the performance of our calorimeter. One of these is the silicon photomultiplier. This device could allow us to better measure the light from the scintillators thereby improving our measurement of the hadron energy. However, because it took 13+ years to get the original HCAL to a fully integrated system, it will probably take several years for the new upgrade to be designed, specified, prototyped and produced and then it must be integrated into the existing CMS detector. All this means that although beam operations have been going on for months, upgrade plans have been going on for years.
I’m excited about what we can learn from the data being taken now with CMS and the other LHC detectors, and I looking forward to improvements that are coming in the future years to better exploit the discovery potential of this remarkable machine.