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Archive for June, 2015

This article appeared in Fermilab Today on June 22, 2015.

Steve Gould of the Fermilab Technical Division prepares a cold test of a short quadrupole coil. The coil is of the type that would go into the High-Luminosity LHC. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Steve Gould of the Fermilab Technical Division prepares a cold test of a short quadrupole coil. The coil is of the type that would go into the High-Luminosity LHC. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Last month, a group collaborating across four national laboratories completed the first successful tests of a superconducting coil in preparation for the future high-luminosity upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider, or HL-LHC. These tests indicate that the magnet design may be adequate for its intended use.

Physicists, engineers and technicians of the U.S. LHC Accelerator Research Program (LARP) are working to produce the powerful magnets that will become part of the HL-LHC, scheduled to start up around 2025. The plan for this upgrade is to increase the particle collision rate, or luminosity, by approximately a factor of 10, so expanding the collider’s physics reach by creating 10 times more data.

“The upgrade will help us get closer to new physics. If we see something with the current run, we’ll need more data to get a clear picture. If we don’t find anything, more data may help us to see something new,” said Technical Division’s Giorgio Ambrosio, leader of the LARP magnet effort.

LARP is developing more advanced quadrupole magnets, which are used to focus particle beams. These magnets will have larger beam apertures and the ability to produce higher magnetic fields than those at the current LHC.

The Department of Energy established LARP in 2003 to contribute to LHC commissioning and prepare for upgrades. LARP includes Brookhaven National Laboratory, Fermilab, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and SLAC. Its members began developing the technology for advanced large-aperture quadrupole magnets around 2004.

The superconducting magnets currently in use at the LHC are made from niobium titanium, which has proven to be a very effective material to date. However, they will not be able to support the higher magnetic fields and larger apertures the collider needs to achieve higher luminosities. To push these limits, LARP scientists and engineers turned to a different material, niobium tin.

Niobium tin was discovered before niobium titanium. However, it has not yet been used in accelerators because, unlike niobium titanium, niobium tin is very brittle, making it susceptible to mechanical damage. To be used in high-energy accelerators, these magnets need to withstand large amounts of force, making them difficult to engineer.

LARP worked on this challenge for almost 10 years and went through a number of model magnets before it successfully started the fabrication of coils for 150-millimeter-aperture quadrupoles. Four coils are required for each quadrupole.

LARP and CERN collaborated closely on the design of the coils. After the first coil was built in the United States earlier this year, the LARP team successfully tested it in a magnetic mirror structure. The mirror structure makes possible tests of individual coils under magnetic field conditions similar to those of a quadrupole magnet. At 1.9 Kelvin, the coil exceeded 19 kiloamps, 15 percent above the operating current.

The team also demonstrated that the coil was protected from the stresses and heat generated during a quench, the rapid transition from superconducting to normal state.

“The fact that the very first test of the magnet was successful was based on the experience of many years,” said TD’s Guram Chlachidze, test coordinator for the magnets. “This knowledge and experience is well recognized by the magnet world.”

Over the next few months, LARP members plan to test the completed quadrupole magnet.

“This was a success for both the people building the magnets and the people testing the magnets,” said Fermilab scientist Giorgio Apollinari, head of LARP. “We still have a mountain to climb, but now we know we have all the right equipment at our disposal and that the first step was in the right direction.”

Diana Kwon

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I know what you are thinking. The LHC is back in action, at the highest energies ever! Where are the results? Where are all the blog posts?

Back in action, yes, but restarting the LHC is a very measured process. For one thing, when running at the highest beam energies ever achieved, we have to be very careful about how we operate the machine, lest we inadvertently damage it with beams that are mis-steered for whatever reason. The intensity of the beams — how many particles are circulating — is being incrementally increased with successive fills of the machine. Remember that the beam is bunched — the proton beams aren’t continuous streams of protons, but collections that are just a few centimeters long, spaced out by at least 750 centimeters. The LHC started last week with only three proton bunches in each beam, only two of which were actually colliding at an interaction point. Since then, the LHC team has gone to 13 bunches per beam, and then 39 bunches per beam. Full-on operations will be more like 1380 bunches per beam. So at the moment, the beams are of very low intensity, meaning that there are not that many collisions happening, and not that much physics to do.

What’s more, the experiments have much to do also to prepare for the higher collision rates. In particular, there is the matter of “timing in” all the detectors. Information coming from each individual component of a large experiment such as CMS takes some time to reach the data acquisition system, and it’s important to understand how long that time is, and to get all of the components synchronized. If you don’t have this right, then you might not be getting the optimal information out of each component, or worse still, you could end up mixing up information from different bunch crossings, which would be disastrous. This, along with other calibration work, is an important focus during this period of low-intensity beams.

But even if all these things were working right out of the box, we’d still have a long way to go until we had some scientific results. As noted already, the beam intensities have been low, so there aren’t that many collisions to examine. There is much work to do yet in understanding the basics in a revised detector operating at a higher beam energy, such as how to identify electrons and muons once again. And even once that’s done, it will take a while to make measurements and fully vet them before they could be made public in any way.

So, be patient, everyone! The accelerator scientists and the experimenters are hard at work to bring you a great LHC run! Next week, the LHC takes a break for maintenance work, and that will be followed by a “scrubbing run”, the goal of which is to improve the vacuum in the LHC beam pipe. That will allow higher-intensity beams, and position us to take data that will get the science moving once again.

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Today begins the second operation period of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. By declaring “stable beams”, the LHC operators signal to physicists it is now safe to turn all their detectors on. After more than two years of intensive repair and consolidation work, the LHC now operates at higher energy. What do we hope to achieve?

The discovery of the Higgs boson in July 2012 completed the Standard Model of particle physics. This theoretical model describes all matter seen around us, both on Earth and in all stars and galaxies. But this is precisely the problem: this model only applies to what is visible in the Universe, namely 5% of its content in matter and energy. The rest consists of dark matter (27%) and dark energy (68%), two absolutely unknown substances. Hence the need for a more encompassing theory. But what is it and how can it be reached?

By operating the LHC at 13 TeV, we now have much more energy available to produce new particles than during the 2010-2012 period, when the proton collisions occurred at 8 TeV. Given that energy and mass are two forms of the same essence, the energy released during these collisions materialises, producing new particles. Having more energy means one can now produce heavier particles. It is as if one’s budget just went from 8000 euro to 13000 euro. We can “afford” bigger particles if they exist in Nature.

The Standard Model tells us that all matter is built from twelve basic particles, just like a construction set consisting of twelve basic building blocks and some “connectors” linking them together. These connectors are other particles associated with the fundamental forces. Since none of these particles has the properties of dark matter, there must still be undiscovered particles.

Which theory will allow us to go beyond the Standard Model? Will it be Supersymmetry, one of the numerous theoretical hypotheses currently under study. This theory would unify the particles of matter with the particles associated with the fundamental forces. But Supersymmetry implies the existence of numerous new particles, none of which has been found yet.

Will the LHC operating at 13 TeV allow us to produce some of these supersymmetric particles? Or will the entrance of the secret passage towards this “new physics” be revealed by meticulously studying a plethora of quantities, such as the properties of the Higgs boson. Will we discover that it establishes a link between ordinary matter (everything described by the Standard Model) and dark matter?

These are some of the many questions the LHC could clarify in the coming years. An experimental discovery would reveal the new physics. We might very well be on the verge of a huge scientific revolution.

For more information about particle physics and my book, see my website

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