CERN unveils its high-power detector that will hunt for “brand new physics”

Scientists are constantly testing the boundaries of our understanding of what makes up the most elementary constituents of our universe. But in order to continue testing these boundaries, technology needs to keep up.

Now, CERN has announced its Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) experiment will be getting a brand-new detector in 2020.

The detector, called a scintillating fibre tracker (SciFi), will capture more of the hundreds of millions of proton collisions produced at LHCb every second. Currently, the detectors can only see 2,000 each second, but SciFi hopes to dramatically improve on this.

“To extract more information from the LHC data, we need new technologies for our LHCb detector,” says Aurelio Bay from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Laboratory for High Energy Physics.

SciFi will work using 6,200 miles (10,000km) of scintillating fibres each with a diameter of 0.25mm. The fibres will be arranged on three panels, behind a large magnet that will direct the particles after the collision point. The particles will go through these fibres, giving off light that will be picked up by diodes. 


EPFL has teamed up with several research institutes to develop the new equipment that will upgrade the experiment in 2020. It is hoped the new detector will help particle physicists explore the realms of physics beyond the Standard Model, our best description of what goes on at the tiniest scales.

 “The standard model (SM) is arguably the most successful scientific theory ever put together by mankind,” Juan Rojo, a particle physicist at the Free University of Amsterdam, told Alphr.

The standard model lets us describe things such as how atoms stick together, how radioactivity works in the sun, why the proton is stable so we don’t fall apart, and how the universe was formed. It works as a kind of periodic table, giving us a list of simple building blocks, out of which everything around us is made.

“However, we also know it is an incomplete theory,” says Rojo. There is no building block in there for dark matter, for example, or dark energy, and it cannot describe gravity or gravitational waves.

Then when it comes to particle physics, there are further anomalies. The standard model does not explain why the Higgs boson is so light, as basic arguments suggest its mass should be many orders of magnitude heavier.

CERN hopes SciFi will help us delve into physics beyond the standard model because it can acquire data at the highest speed. “If the LHC doesn’t have enough power to uncover new physics, it’s all over for my generation of physicists,” says Bay. “We will have to come up with a new machine, for the next generation.”


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