LHC trials proton–lead collisions

Juggling magnetic fields to collide protons and lead

Physicists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are analysing the results of their first attempt at colliding protons and lead ions. Further attempts at proton–lead collisions are expected over the next few weeks. If these trials are successful, a full-blown experimental programme could run in 2012.

Since the Geneva lab began experiments with the LHC in 2009, it has mostly been used to send two beams of protons in opposite directions around the 27 km accelerator, with the hope of spotting, among other things, the Higgs boson in the resulting collisions. Two beams of lead ions have also been smashed into each other in order to recreate the hot dense matter, known as a quark–gluon plasma, that was present in the early universe.

But to fully understand the results of such collisions, physicists need to know the properties of the lead ions before they collide. That is, their “cold state” before vast amounts of heat are released by the collisions. One way to do this, according to Urs Wiedemann at CERN, is to collide protons with lead ions.See:LHC trials proton–lead collisions

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A lead-ion collision as recorded by the CMS detector at the LHC. © CERN for the benefit of the CMS collaboration.

 The LHC has been smashing lead ions since Sunday, and physicists from the ALICE, ATLAS and CMS experiments are working around the clock to analyze the aftermath of these heavy-ion collisions at record energies and temperatures.* Last week we walked you through the process of creating, accelerating and colliding lead ions. Now we’ll talk about the big question: Why spend one month each year colliding heavy ions in the LHC?See:LHC basics: What we can learn from lead-ion collisions

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LHC finishes 2011 proton run

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