Particle collider gets an overhaul to better seek out dark matter, God particle

The Large Hadron Collider, now a 'new machine,' and gets a start-up schedule for '15

Scientists are prepping the world's most powerful particle accelerator for the start of its third two-year run in 2015.

The Large Hadron Collider, which discovered what is believed to be the elusive Higgs boson, was shut down in February 2013 for a two-year overhaul. The long stop was needed to get the collider ready to start up again, running at nearly double the energy of its first runs.

Technicians have begun to cool down the massive machine in preparation for research to resume early in 2015, according to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which operates the facility.

The collider, a 17-mile, underground, vacuum-sealed loop at a facility that sits astride the Franco-Swiss border, was first tested in September 2008.

The atom smasher which has been called "one of the great engineering milestones of mankind," was built to explore concepts like the Big Bang theory, dark matter and the Higgs boson. Smashing particle beams together in the collider creates showers of new particles that replicate conditions in the universe just moments after its conception.

The accelerator chain that supplies the collider's particle beams has already started up, CERN noted.

"There is a new buzz about the laboratory and a real sense of anticipation," said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer, speaking at a recent news conference. "Much work has been carried out on the [collider] over the last 18 months or so, and it's effectively a new machine, poised to set us on the path to new discoveries."

The upgrade, which will allow the accelerator to collide particles at greater energies than ever before, should allow scientists to get even more information about the Higgs boson, as well as dark matter.

"The machine is coming out of a long sleep after undergoing an important surgical operation," said Frédérick Bordry, CERN's Director for Accelerators and Technology, in a written statement. "We are now going to wake it up very carefully and go through many tests before colliding beams again early next year."

CERN expects to have a beam back in the collider by early next year. And the program's physics experiments should begin again next spring.

In the summer of 2012, CERN scientists announced what was to become one of their biggest discoveries - the elusive Higgs boson, a particle with such mystery and scientific importance attached to it that it has been dubbed the God particle.

The Higgs boson is believed to account for why everything in the universe has weight. It could be a key component of everything from humans to stars and planets, as well as the vast majority of the universe that's invisible.

ATLAS collision
A Higgs boson was seen in this collision recorded by ATLAS, one of two general-purpose detectors at the Large Hadron Collider, on May 18, 2012. (Image: ATLAS)

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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