Record-Breaking High-Energy Particle Collisions at CERN
30 March 2010
Heidelberg is the only university in the world whose scientists are crucially involved in three of the four big experiments performed at the LHC particle accelerator at the CERN European Research Centre. About 100 Heidelberg scientists are contributing their expertise to the ongoing international research work in particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology designed to gain fundamental insights into the origins of the universe after the Big Bang. Investigations have reached a new level now that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has collided particles at hitherto unprecedented energies of seven tera-electron volts (TeV) or seven trillion electron volts.
Research groups at the Kirchhoff Institute of Physics (Prof. K. Meier, Prof. H.-C. Schultz-Coulon and Prof. U. Kebschull) and the Physics Institute (Prof. S. Hansmann-Menzemer, Prof. N. Herrmann, Prof. A. Schöning, Prof. J. Stachel and Prof. U. Uwer) are part of the worldwide LHC networks. Also involved is Prof. R. Männer’s team at the Institute of Computer Engineering. Another institution associated with LHC is Heidelberg’s Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, which collaborates closely with the University and its physicists. Prior to the start-up of LHC, the Heidelberg experts made major contributions to the construction of various research instruments.
Central to the LHC-related research work taking place at Heidelberg University and the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics is participation in the analysis of the colossal amounts of data produced by the ALICE, ATLAS and LHCb experiments. These experiments address crucial issues in astrophysics, cosmology, particle physics and the physics of complex quantum systems. These fields are key research interests of the Heidelberg scientists and also represent the main focus of the Graduate School of Fundamental Physics established with funding from the Excellence Initiative. Resources totalling 7 million euros have been provided for work on and with the LHC up to 2012.
The Large Hadron Collider generates proton-proton and lead-lead collisions at higher energies than any previously achieved. The processes taking place in the course of these collisions resemble those set off shortly after the Big Bang. Teams of scientists worldwide will be examining the data to investigate e.g. the cause of asymmetry between matter and antimatter. They will be inquiring into the origin of mass and investigating the extremely short-lived state of matter known as quark-gluon plasma. In addition, the researchers are hoping for discoveries in “New Physics”, which goes beyond the standard model of particle physics and may be able to solve the mystery of dark matter.
After a one-year repair interval, the Large Hadron Collider produced initial proton-proton collisions during its three-week start-up stage last November. These collisions were successfully recorded by all four experiments. For the first time, the LHC accelerator has taken the experiments into a new and hitherto unexplored energy regime of 7 TeV, more than tripling the energy compared to previous experiments. In the next few years the collider is planned to double this energy.
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