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September 6, 2023

Unlocking the Universe's Secrets: Breakthrough in Large Hadron Collider Upgrade

Berkeley Lab Unleashes Superpowered Cables to Transform Large Hadron Collider

In a monumental step toward understanding the cosmos, U.S. researchers have achieved a significant milestone in the HL-LHC Accelerator Upgrade Project. They've transformed over 2,220 km (1,367 miles) of wire into cutting-edge cables for the next generation of focusing magnets at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

These groundbreaking magnets, the most powerful of their kind, will substantially increase collision rates in the LHC's detectors. More collisions mean more data, enabling scientists to explore profound mysteries such as the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

The journey to create these magnets begins by turning superconducting wire into cables, a meticulous process that demands precision. Each of the 111 cables is a continuous piece, comprising 40 strands of wire wound around a stainless-steel core. Any misstep during this process, spanning 470 meters, could render the cable useless.

The effort to achieve perfection is a collaborative feat involving experts from the Berkeley Center for Magnet Technology. As Ian Pong, a staff scientist, aptly puts it, "We have 40 dancers - the wire spools - pirouetting in a circle for about three hours, and our responsibility is to make sure that no single missed step happens during the entire performance."

This endeavor is part of the Accelerator Upgrade Project (AUP), the U.S. contribution to the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) initiative. Four institutions, including Berkeley Lab, are working together to design, produce, and test these remarkable magnets. These magnets, crafted from niobium-tin, will operate at approximately 12 tesla, hundreds of thousands of times stronger than Earth's magnetic field.

By working in concert with other magnets, they will compress particle beams, resulting in increased particle interactions. The upgraded HL-LHC is poised to produce between 5 and 7.5 billion proton collisions per second, opening doors to scientific breakthroughs.

This meticulous work extends beyond cable production. Quality control is rigorous, with thorough inspections of each cable. Even the slightest variation in thickness, no more than 10 microns, is carefully monitored.

The result of this meticulous work is a leap forward in accelerator technology. As Cameron Geddes, the director of ATAP, states, "While these magnets power a new generation of fundamental physics, the techniques we've developed during this project are a step towards even more powerful future accelerators."

The journey isn't over yet. Teams across collaborating institutions continue assembling the magnets, with plans to activate the HL-LHC in 2029.

Neil Hodgson Coyle
Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Editorial chief at TechNews180
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