Although CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) typically experiments using protons, scientists just used the device to accelerate atoms for the first time ever to test the new Gamma Factory CERN concept.
“We’re investigating new ideas of how we could broaden the present CERN research programme and infrastructure,” said Michaela Schaumann, an LHC Engineer in Charge. “Finding out what’s possible is the first step.”
Physicists experiment with the CERN machine for a few days a year, breaking away from the standard proton-proton collisions and delving into the unknown. To date, they accelerated other stripped lead ions and xenon nuclei.
“This special LHC run was really the last step in a series of tests,” explained physicist Witold Krasny, who put together a study group of about 50 scientists that were interested in looking at new methods of high-energy gamma ray production.
“It’s really easy to accidentally strip off the electron,” Schaumann said. “When that happens, the nucleus crashes into the wall of the beam pipe because its charge is no longer synchronised with the LHC’s magnetic field.”
In addition to being a fun experiment, the tests could help determine if the LHC could function as a future gamma-ray factory. The study of gamma rays could lead to the production of enough energy to create “matter particles” like muons, quarks, and electrons.
While these unique sci-fi innovations are not anywhere close to being ready, the CERN scientists are hoping that their experiments will take them closer to uncovering new discoveries in the realm of physics.