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Large Hadron Collider smashes protons, record

The $10-billion structure at Geneva collides particles at three times previous energy levels. It hopes to find smaller particles and make other physics discoveries.

March 30, 2010|By Amina Khan

The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva succeeded early Tuesday in colliding subatomic particles at three times the highest energy levels previously recorded.

Scientists gathered in a room at Caltech and in similar groups around the globe witnessed the achievement at 3:58 PDT.

"There were cheers in all the control rooms," said Caltech physicist Harvey Newman. "As soon as we get the data, we're analyzing it. ... It's been a long time coming."

Researchers were waiting for the promised flood of data that would come as protons from two particle beams from the 17-mile-circumference collider smashed into each other.

Several experiments using the particle accelerator could help test for smaller particles, dark matter, other dimensions, supersymmetry and other theories in particle physics, researchers said.

"We're pretty happy because we've been waiting all night," said Andy Yen, 21, a senior who had worked on experiments related to the collider for most of his undergraduate career. "Some people have been waiting 15, 20 years it's late, but it's worth it."

Earlier that night, two previous attempts to ramp up the accelerator had been cut short, and the researchers, who at peak attendance numbered two-dozen-plus, were running low on pizza and energy. The buzz of conversation between professors and doctoral candidates died down each time the two beams were spun in preparation for the planned collision.

Many said they had planned stay all night until the data began to flow in, even though they would not have immediate access to the measurements. Caltech particle physicist Bertrand Echenard said he was staying for the experience.

"When you watch the Olympic Games, you can watch the flame for 15 days, but what you want to watch is the [torch] lighting," Echenard said, standing below two clocks: one with "GENEVA" pasted over the glass, a second covered in "CAL TECH."

"It really is the start of something."

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