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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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2010 proton collisions — it’s a wrap!

This morning, the LHC ended proton-proton collisions for 2010. What an exciting year! Seven months ago, there had never been particle collisions at a center of mass energy of 7 TeV in an accelerator. Now, LHC physicists are busy combing through the mountains of data that have been accumulated since. True, the collisions are still a factor of two below design energy, and a factor of a hundred below design collision rate — we have a long way to go. However, the improvements we have seen this year have been very encouraging and show that we are well on our way to getting there. We have seen the instantaneous collision rate (luminosity, really, for those who want the right techical term) increase by a factor of 100,000 over the past seven months. As a result, the bulk of the collision data has actually arrived within the past month. Everyone has had to be on their toes to keep up with it.

Today thus marks the end of at least one era. With the heavy-ion run about to start and then an extended technical stop to begin in early December, we don’t expect proton collisions again until late February 2011. This break of at least three months gives everyone a chance to chew on the data that we do have in hand. This dataset is thus going to be the basis for a raft of papers that are going to be published in 2011. At the very least, this data will be used to re-establish a variety of standard-model processes at this energy scale, and will be able to exclude a number of theories of new phenomena. (Or, if we are very lucky, discover some new phenomena!) On top of that is another intriguing possibility: it is possible (but certainly not yet confirmed!) that in 2011 the LHC will run at a collision energy of 8 TeV rather than 7 TeV. This decision will likely be made at the Chamonix workshop in January, where CERN will set the run plan for the year. A move to 8 TeV will increase the production rate of a variety of particles, including the much-sought Higgs boson (if such a thing actually exists). If this happens, then it is likely that 7 TeV collisions will never be done again, in which case the data we have collected this year, and the measurements done with them, will be something unique in the history of particle physics.

Your LHC physicists will be hard at work over the next few months to fully explore the 2010 data. Watch this space for more news about the science that will come out of it!

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