University of Bristol: World’s most powerful particle accelerator comes back to life

After three years of shutdown for planned maintenance and upgrades, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator has been switched back on and will shortly begin another run of cutting-edge physics.

The LHC, on the French/Swiss border near Geneva, was switched off in 2018 to enable scientists and engineers from all over the world to make it even more powerful.

Last month the University received £2.38m from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to support the Bristol Particle Physics Group’s research projects at CERN and other international laboratories, including searching for dark matter and looking for signs of new phenomena in the decays of subatomic particles

Prof Joel Goldstein of Bristol’s School of Physics said: “In the Bristol Particle Physics Group we are very excited by the restart of the LHC. Analysis of previous LHC data has thrown up some intriguing discrepancies, including anomalous results in detailed studies of B meson decays led by Bristol researchers.

“The new running period will more than double the available data set, allowing us to make even more precise measurements and hopefully establish whether these discrepancies are the first signs of new physics or merely statistical fluctuations. The new data will also increase the sensitivity in our continuing searches for other signs of new physics, such as exotic decays of the Higgs boson.”

Teams across the world have helped the Large Hadron Collider reach record-breaking energy levels for its third physics run.

This new energy frontier will allow researchers to tackle ever more challenging questions about the laws of nature and increase understanding of the building blocks of matter.

As part of the international effort, UK teams, including Bristol, have led a series of vital work packages to improve the performance of each of the LHC’s four main instruments.

The UK’s contributions to the upgrade are worth more than £25 million, funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Science Minister George Freeman said: “The Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva is one of the world’s most important laboratories allowing scientists to understand the deepest questions of the atomic structure of our universe & the origins of human life.

“The UK is proud to have been a founding partner of CERN and of the key role UK physicists and engineers have played in designing and building vital pieces of the Large Hadron Collider’s experiments.

“Through our leading role in global projects of this scale the UK is building on a role as a global science superpower and helping retain the highest calibre of talented scientists in the UK.”

Mike Lamont, CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, said: “The machines and facilities underwent major upgrades during the second long shutdown of CERN’s accelerator complex.

“The LHC itself has undergone an extensive consolidation programme and will now operate at an even higher energy and, thanks to major improvements in the injector complex, it will deliver significantly more data to the upgraded LHC experiments.”

Executive Chair of STFC and particle physicist Professor Mark Thomson said: “The UK continues to enjoy a strong and fruitful relationship with CERN. Our scientists and engineers have played pivotal roles in contributing to the major upgrades, paving the way for exciting UK-led research on the more powerful beams at the LHC.

“It will never cease to impress me how our scientists and engineers, with their incredible skill and expertise, can continue to improve these cutting-edge facilities using ever-more innovative technologies.

“The global science community will now eagerly await the results from the new run, which will probe some of the recent hints of new physics seen at the LHC and elsewhere.”

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