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CERN | Geneva | Switzerland

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What’s coming up at CERN in 2013?

The Year of the Dragon (2012) came with a roar: a wonderful discovery and a greater understanding of how matter works. What might 2013, the Year of the Serpent, have in store for CERN? The serpent could very well represent the long and winding road of the many new upgrades ahead.

On Monday 11 February at 6 am Geneva time, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will stop producing collisions, marking the start of a major overhaul for all accelerators at CERN. This will be the first in a series of three long-shutdowns to allow a complete refurbishing of the main accelerator, the LHC. The goal is to be able to increase its energy from the actual 8 TeV to 13 or even 14 TeV. This means an increased reach for new particles.

This is not just to play a game of who will find the biggest particle, but rather an attempt at finding the passageway to new theories. Since energy (E) and mass (m) are two forms of the same essence, as stated by the famous equation E = mc2, where c2 acts as a conversion factor between the two, increasing the accelerator energy will give us the possibility to create particles more massive than we have ever been able to produce before.  It will also enhance the production rate of known particles – like the newly discovered boson – to better study them.

Finding new particles will tell us what else is out there. As it stands, the current theoretical model – the Standard Model of particle physics – only describes the tip of the iceberg, namely the matter that we are made of. But we already know that dark matter exists, even though scientists have absolutely no clue what kind of particles make up this strange type of matter. All we know is that it accounts for about 26% of matter in the Universe whereas regular matter is only worth 4%. The rest, that is 70% of the content of the Universe, is a form of energy called “dark energy”, which is even more mysterious and is responsible for the accelerated expansion of the Universe.

Far from being a time to rest, this long shutdown will be an intense period for everyone at the lab. Accelerator physicists, engineers and technicians will be working on all the needed upgrades and consolidations. For the LHC alone, this entails mostly opening up the interconnections between each of the machine’s 1,695 magnet cryostats and consolidating all of the 10,170 electrical junctions carrying current to these dipole and quadrupole magnets. And it goes without saying that 27 km of high technology don’t mind a bit of maintenance once in a while.

It is foreseen that the accelerator complex will come back to life in 2014, with the LHC becoming operational again in 2015.

Just about all experiments at CERN, not only those operating at the LHC but also the ones taking place at all the smaller accelerators, will be taking the opportunity for consolidations and upgrades.

Experimentalists will also take time to finalise their analyses, often after fully reprocessing all of the accumulated data with the latest calibration and reconstruction algorithms, ensuring that new results will keep coming out at a steady pace.

Last but not least, CERN will open its doors to the general public on Sunday 29 September. Here is your chance to see what keeps thousands of scientists very busy. Mark your calendar: this will be a day to remember.

Pauline Gagnon

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