The Large Hadron Collider Came Online 10 Years Ago Today

The Large Hadron Collider Came Online 10 Years Ago Today

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the most complex machine ever built by humanity. It took thousands of scientists from more than 100 countries to make the LHC a reality, and it became a reality exactly 10 years ago today. That’s when CERN completed the first full proton beam circulation inside the LHC. That was the beginning, but also not the beginning. It took decades of work to make the LHC happen.

The first hints of what would become the LHC surfaces in 1984 when researchers from the European Committee for Future Accelerators (ECFA) held a workshop in Switzerland to discuss future particle accelerator projects. The ECFA initially wanted to build the LHC alongside the upcoming Large Electron–Positron Collider (LEP), but that plan was scrapped in favor of a much grander vision for the LHC.

CERN planned the LHC all through the 1990s with the intention of making it the most powerful particle collider in the world. Researchers didn’t have to completely start from scratch, though. CERN already had a 27-kilometer underground tunnel from the LEP, so that collider was decommissioned in 2000 to make way for the LHC. CERN spent the next eight years installing the superconducting magnets and detection instruments like ATLAS and ALICE that make up what we know as the Large Hadron Collider.

The LHC’s first beams.
The LHC’s first beams.

On September 10, 2008, the LHC beam screen recorded two yellow dots (see above), indicating that the proton beams had successfully passed through the circular track. CERN estimates more than a billion people followed the events that day. That was proof that the LHC worked, but simply blasting protons around in a circle isn’t why the LCH existed. Those protons needed to crash into each other if we were to learn anything, and researchers completed the first collision the following year on November 20, 2009. In an experiment several days later, the LHC reached 1.18 TeV, becoming the most powerful particle collider in the world.

The LHC began physics experiments in 2010, and it’s been a steady march of progress since then as CERN continuously ramped up beam power. CERN announced in 2012 that the LHC had uncovered the long-theorized Higgs boson, a discovery that was later confirmed through additional testing. Today, the LHC is capable of collision energy in excess of 13 TeV — an order of magnitude more than its original operational limit. CERN is currently working on the so-called “High-Luminosity” upgrade to the LHC that could increase the number of particle collisions by as much as seven times. That project won’t be finished until 2026, but the LCH will continue operating at its current capacity for most of that time.

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