The LHC closed 2022 in style. The largest particle accelerator on the planet resides at the CERN facility near Geneva and along the French-Swiss border. The last beam of protons covered its 27 km circumference on November 28 at 6 in the morning, and just a few days before, on November 18, this extremely complex machine achieved a very important milestone by successfully colliding two beams of lead cores with an energy level of 5.36 TeV.
This figure is a true record, but it is by no means the end of the road to the high-luminosity LHC. And it is that this accelerator is being modified by CERN technicians with the purpose of increasing the number of collisions that are carried out during the experiments. The intention of the physicists who design these tests is to recreate the necessary conditions to accurately study a state of matter known as QGP (Quark-Gluon Plasma), although they aspire to make other discoveries along the way.
In any case, to increase the luminosity of the accelerator and go from the 150 inverse femtobarns that occurred between 2010 and 2018 to the 250 inverse femtobarns that it should produce every year from 2026, it is necessary to act on one of the critical subsystems of this machine: its magnets. As we can guess, those that are being installed are very sophisticated. In fact, they are similar to the latest generation superconducting magnets that will be placed on the outside of ITER’s vacuum chamber in order to confine the plasma inside.
The short-term goal is to collide particles with an energy of 7 TeV
A note before proceeding by way of clarification: luminosity is measured in inverse femtobarns, so that each of them is equivalent to 100 trillion collisions between protons. Of course, it is about trillions on a long scale, so an inverse femtobarn is 100 million million collisions. As we can guess, a greater number of collisions between particles allows scientists to collect more information, so that once it has been carefully analyzed it can help them infer new knowledge.
The new niobium and tin magnets at the LHC are capable of generating a magnetic field of 12 Tesla
Now let’s get back to what really interests us in this article: the new LHC magnets. They are made of an alloy of niobium and tin that becomes superconductive when cooled with supercritical helium to a temperature of -269 degrees Celsius. This property is very important, there is no doubt about that, but its true superpower is precisely a consequence of this characteristic: these magnets are capable of generate a magnetic field of 12 tesla. It is a real barbarity.
To put this figure in context, we only have to look at the fact that the intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field on the surface of our planet ranges between 25 and 65 microtesla (a microtesla is equal to one millionth of a tesla). As we can intuit, there is a good reason that explains why the LHC technicians need such powerful magnets in this particle accelerator’s operating cycle: to increase their luminosity it is essential that the hadron beams remain very precisely confined to the points of collision of the ATLAS and CMS detectors.
Both the LHC and the detectors with which it lives are a true engineering marvel. These machines also demonstrate what human beings are capable of achieving when they push in a single direction without getting distracted. Without paying attention to unimportant minutiae that have nothing to do with the progress of science. Only then will it be possible to achieve something that CERN scientists are already caressing with their fingertips: carry out particle collisions. with an energy of 7 TeV. At the moment, the new magnets of the LHC have already reached the necessary currents to make possible the operation with this level of energy.
Top image: CERN
More information: CERN
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