Page last updated at 13:33 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

Large Hadron Collider smashes energy record again

LHC tunnel (Cern/M.Brice)
The LHC's tunnel runs for 27km under the Franco-Swiss border

The Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest physics experiment, has broken its own particle beam energy record.

On Friday morning, the machine created two beams of protons, each with an energy of 3.5 trillion electron volts.

The effort breaks the prior record, set by the LHC in December, of just over a trillion electron volts in each beam.

The LHC will now aim to smash those two beams together, hoping to create new particles that give insight into the most fundamental workings of physics.

The experiment, housed in a 27km-long tunnel under the outskirts of Geneva in Switzerland, has only been back online since November 2009.

A breakdown and helium leak in 2008, shortly after the machine was first switched on, took some 14 months to repair.

"Getting the beams to 3.5 TeV is testimony to the soundness of the LHC's overall design, and the improvements we've made since the breakdown in September 2008," said Steve Myers, director for accelerators and technology at the Swiss laboratory Cern, where the LHC is based.

Particle interaction simulation (SPL)
The LHC's experiments create showers of particles

"It's a great credit to the patience and dedication of the LHC operation team."

Since coming back online, the machine has exhibited performance that was "remarkable", according to Cern director general Rolf Heuer.

In an announcement of the 3.5 TeV result, he congratulated the LHC team and stressed the cutting-edge nature of its work.

"We must not lose sight of the fact that the LHC is new, and it wasn't bought off the shelf," he wrote.

As with all particle accelerators, the LHC will be periodically shut down for maintenance, but LHC officials recently decided to significantly lengthen the shutdown period.

This is in part because the machine takes so long to reach and return from the low temperatures required for its experiments.

But the shutdown scheduled for late 2011 will also address an issue with the joints between the machine's superconducting magnets, which must be strengthened before the LHC can run at even higher energies.

"It is a state of the art prototype that is pushing the limits of technology across a wide range of disciplines, and as such it needs to be treated with the greatest respect," Professor Heuer wrote.

"It takes time, but as we've seen this week, patience pays dividends."

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