Today, operators of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator announced their plan for the 2012 run. The new schedule calls for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located near Geneva, Switzerland, to run at a collision energy of 8 teraelectron volts (TeV), an increase of 1 TeV over the previous year. But little else will change at the machine.
It is a conservative decision, although not a surprising one. The LHC team could have raised the energy (the machine is designed to reach 14 TeV), or increased the number of protons colliding inside the 27-kilometre ring, or both. But cranking up the machine carries risks. Without a major safety upgrade, scheduled for next year, increasing the energy too much could have sparked another major accident like the one that brought the collider down in 2008. Packing protons inside the machine is less risky, but it’s a tricky business that would probably lead to more downtime.
The LHC ran like a dream last year, stacking up many trillions of collisions and discovering hints the Higgs boson, the particle that helps to endow others with mass. Nailing down the Higgs is the goal of the 2012 run, so the plan is to do no more, nor less, than is necessary. Running at slightly higher energy and with otherwise similar parameters should allow the experiments to gather information on 1,600 trillion collisions — three times the data seen in 2011. That will be enough to say once and for all whether the Higgs really is where the LHC sees it.