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World's Biggest Particle Accelertor Begins Operation
September 16, 2008

After more than 15 years of planning and preparation, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, started operating.

At about 2:30 a.m. CDT on September 10th, 2008, a beam of accelerated protons entered the LHC’s 17-mile underground tunnel and successfully completed a full lap less than an hour later, passing through each of the particle detectors spaced along the tunnel. This first circulating beam is a critical step to show that the accelerator is working properly.

Located near Geneva, Switzerland, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, the LHC is a collaboration of thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world. UW-Madison is one of the few institutions that have made major contributions to both of the main particle detectors, called ATLAS and CMS.

Once running at full capacity, the accelerator will smash two beams of protons together at nearly the speed of light in search of exotic atomic particles and other unknown phenomena that scientists say will help explain unsolved questions about the nature of matter and the physical universe.

At full power, the LHC will reach energy levels seven times higher than any achieved in previous experiments. Such energy levels will offer physicists their first glimpses into a new realm of higher energy particles and phenomena, which may help explain the origin of mass, the nature of the elusive dark matter that fills most of the universe, and even the possibility of extra dimensions of space.

Once stable beams are circulating in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions, the machine will be ready for its first collisions and the initiation of its physics research program. These first particle collisions are expected to take place within the next two months.

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