The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the largest and most complex particle accelerator ever built and it’s the flagship experiment of CERN. The LHC has produced many new breakthroughs, but its crowning achievement so far is the discovery of the Higgs boson, the particle that gives everything else mass.
But CERN is a forward-looking institution, so it doesn't just rest on the laurels of its great discoveries. Currently, the LHC is concluding its impressive second run of observations, and researchers are busy analyzing the data coming out of the experiments. And the institution is already thinking about the next phase.
A major overhaul of the facility is planned to begin in just a few years so that the laboratory can continue to make new physics discoveries. How will these changes impact the different experiments? What can we hope to find using the LHC in the near future?
The international laboratory is planning to invest in Hi-Lumi, the nickname for the next major upgrade of the LHC that, by 2025, will become the High-Luminosity LHC. Luminosity in particle accelerators is a value proportional to the number of collisions, so higher luminosity means more collisions and more collisions mean a lot more data. Hi-Lumi will increase the luminosity of the LHC by a factor of 10. This means that it could produce 15 million Higgs bosons every year, compared to the 1.2 million from 2011-2012 when it was discovered.
The increased production of Higgs bosons will be key to probing new areas of physics, as well as improving our understanding of what we know so far. The Higgs boson is a very unstable particle and can decay in multiple ways, and each mode is worth studying in detail.
“We needed more energy and we needed more data. And that’s one of the main topics in the Higgs sector for round two," Dr Richard Polifka, a spokesperson for the ATLAS experiment, told IFLScience. "And of course re-testing all the measurements of the standard model we had so far. “Whenever you reach a new energy frontier, you look for new physics and you re-measure everything we have learned so far.”
ATLAS is one of the two general-purpose experiments in the LHC. The other one is called the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid). Their job is to detect everything produced in the collisions. The other two experiments are ALICE, which focuses on studying an extreme state of matter known as the Quark-Gluon Plasma, and LHCb, which is being used to discover why the universe is made of matter instead of antimatter.