Large Hadron Collider on its way



May 7, 2022

Umair Ali describes a unique scientific phenomenon


Since its inception over a decade ago, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has sought to delve into the secrets of the universe by studying the smallest discreet particles of matter as they collide at nearly the speed of light. The Large Hadron Collider restarted after a three-year break for upgrades that will allow it to smash protons together at even greater speeds, in the hope of making new ground-breaking discoveries. It is reported that it will further study the Higgs Boson, the existence of which it proved in 2012 and put the Standard Model of particle physics to the test after recent anomalies sparked theories about a mysterious fifth force of nature. It was accordingly reported that two beams of protons circulated in opposite directions around the Large Hadron Collider’s 27-kilometre ring.
Buried more than 100 metres (330 feet) beneath the border of Switzerland and France, the collider has been closed since December 2018 for maintenance and upgrades, the second longest shutdown in its 14-year history. After resuming its activities, the collider is going slow as a relatively small number of protons were circulated at an energy of 450 billion electron-volts and high-intensity, high-energy collisions are a couple of months away. It is reported that soon the collider will work around the clock to get the collider ready to set a new record of 13.6 trillion electron-volts. The unprecedented number of upcoming collisions will also serve as the starting gun for four years of massive data collection and analysis by CERN’s four huge particle detectors.
The Large Hadron Collider’s observation of the Higgs boson was seen as further verification of the Standard Model, which is the best theory scientists have for the most basic building blocks of the universe and what forces govern them. But the collider’s new phase of exploration comes at an interesting time, with the Standard Model coming under pressure by a series of measurements that do not seem to fit within its framework. However the scientists said that after a decade of measuring they had found that the W boson has a significantly greater mass than the Standard Model allowed for. According to the standard model of particle physics, particles known as quarks, many of which are unstable and exist only for a split-second, can form heavier particles such as protons and neutrons.
In this context, particles are called beauty quarks at the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) and they are not behaving as scientists would expect and under the Standard Model all these anomalies could be explained by a single new force. There are currently four known fundamental forces of nature — gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces — and a fifth would be a really big deal. It could be that the scientists are actually looking at one corner of the picture and there is a much bigger picture where the Standard Model makes a lot of sense. The anomaly spotted at the time was that the quarks appeared to also decay into another type of lepton — muons — less often than they decayed into electrons. The standard model predicts that beauty quarks would decay into muons at the same rate as they do into electrons. Either way, it would be a step on a road to a more unified understanding of the basic ingredients of the universe.
One of the biggest holes in the Standard Model is that it fails to account for dark matter, which is thought to make up a significant amount of the universe. So far the Large Hadron Collider has found no signs of dark matter. It is mentioned that by its nature it is hard to detect but it would be a big breakthrough, if scientists could find a particle of dark matter. Scientists are quite positive that they may have discovered a brand-new force of nature that could explain why certain atomic particles behave unexpectedly and which may transform understanding the rudiments of physics. Scientists dealing with the collider mention that their results should get physicists’ hearts beating just a little faster after they discovered evidence of a brand-new type of particle.
Until recently there had not been enough data to say for sure what was occurring inside the LHC. In 2019, scientists re-ran the 2014 experiment on beauty quarks again with additional input gathered in the intervening years. The dataset has now doubled, and the team poring over it worked blind — they couldn’t see the result until all procedures had been reviewed — in order to avoid any accidental interpretation bias. When the result finally came out, the data showed that there were around 85 muon decays for every 100 electron decays. It is reported that there was only a one-in-a-thousand chance of the result occurring randomly — not enough to prove the existence of an as-yet unknown particle but strong evidence in favour of its existence.
In this context, several possible explanations are offered. First, the varying decay rate could be the result of a Z prime particle, essentially a new force of nature. This force would be extremely weak, which is why scientists have not seen any signs of it until now and would interact with electrons and muons differently. Another possibility is the currently hypothetical “lyptoquark”, which can decay quarks and leptons simultaneously and which could be part of a larger puzzle that explains why particles in nature are seen. It is reported that if the results were confirmed it would require a new physical process, such as the existence of new fundamental particles or interactions. TW

Umair Ali is a trainee lawyer


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