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UT Arlington assists in 'most complex experiment'

The world's largest scientific experiment, housed 100 meters underground in a man-made cavern near Geneva, Switzerland, finally became operational with an assist from UT Arlington physics professors and graduate students.

The protons collided Nov. 23, 2009 for the first time in the Large Hadron Collider at The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, outside Geneva. The massive particle accelerator is designed to re-create conditions shortly after the universe was created in the Big Bang, giving scientists an opportunity to study how the universe evolved some 14 billion years ago.

The LHC uses around 1,200 superconducting magnets to bend proton beams in opposite directions around a 17-mile-long tunnel at close to the speed of light. After more than a year of repairs from electrical overheating damage, beams were circulating in the collider.

More than 1,700 scientists, engineers, students, and technicians from 97 universities in the United States and national laboratories helped design and build the LHC accelerator and its four massive particle detectors, known by their acronyms: ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb.

Portions of ATLAS, a giant microscope, were built at UT Arlington and shipped to Geneva. ATLAS is a gargantuan measuring device that helps record the results of hundreds of millions of proton collisions. ATLAS is the size of a football field and more than eight stories high. The parts of ATLAS built at UT Arlington were shipped in 135 half-ton boxes to Geneva.

"This is a once in a lifetime moment," UT Arlington physics professor Kaushik De said. "We have been working on getting to this point for 15 years."

Beams were first tuned to produce collisions in the ATLAS detector, which recorded what scientists called its first "candidate for collisions" at 2:22 p.m. November 23 in Switzerland. These collisions were at a much lower energy, but proved that the LHC is working well after the shutdown. Eventually, the collisions will occur at more than 14 times the energy achieved November 23.

De said collaborators in the control room at CERN immediately saw the first picture from ATLAS. Within a very short time, the pictures were shared all over the world and were seen at UT Arlington.

"That was exciting. It has been over two years now that we have been waiting for the machine to become operational," he said "We finished assembling the final pieces of ATLAS three years ago and we have been waiting ever since."

An estimated 8,500 scientists, engineers, technicians and their colleagues from 59 countries have worked on the LHC project. De said the LHC and the detectors cost about $10 billion.

In ATLAS, physicists in more than 30 counties and 100 laboratories participated in what De called "the most complex experiment ever attempted."

Next on the schedule is increasing the beam intensity and accelerating the beams. Officials hope to have enough information by Christmas to tune the LHC collision data at more than seven times the current bean energy by early in 2010.

More information about the U.S. participation in the LHC project and its experiments is available at Photos and graphics of the Large Hadron Collider are available at: