Just because Cern researchers discovered the Higgs Boson particle last year doesn't mean it's time to close up shop on the biggest scientific instrument humanity ever created. Instead, the scientific community has plans to upgrade and retrofit the Large Hadron Collider with bigger, better, and more powerful systems over the next decade -- like the US LHC Accelerator Program's (LARP) new interaction region quadrupole magnets (IRQM) that will help tease every last one of the Higgs-Boson's secrets.
Particles come together in one of four Interaction Regions (IR) within the Large Hadron Collider. The number of iterations generated from each collision (of which you want as many as possible) is known as the integrated luminosity. Cern hopes to increase the collider's integrated luminosity by 10x over the next decade (known as the High Luminosity LHC project), but the process is technically challenging to say the least. Much of the the equipment currently installed on the LHC is definitely powerful enough for the current level of experiments conducted there, but just won't cut it for higher-energy experiments in the future. Take the IRQMs, for instance.
On either immediate side of the interaction region is a quadrupole magnet (quadrupole as in "four poles"). These devices help focus the particle beams towards each other by generating a massive electromagnetic field. The current generation of IRQMs are built from niobium titanium, the Methuselah of superconducting materials, and that from which almost all superconducting material technologies are built. Problem is, niobium titanium isn't strong enough to endure the massive temperatures and radiation produced by the higher energy experiments necessary for deciphering the Higgs-Boson. And any tiny failure within the structure of the magnet itself will nix its superconducting ability and the torrent of protons flowing through the material will stop instantly (this is called a "quench" and is roughly equivalent to crossing the streams).
But the new IRQMs from LARP are different. Dubbed the HQ02a (which stands for something even more complicated), they're built from niobium tin. This next-gen superconducting material is designed, as all magnets at the LHC, to run in a helium superfluid cooled to near absolute zero. But unlike the earlier models, the HQ02a not only operates at a much higher magnetic field, it also features a larger aperture (120mm vs 70mm), a much wider operating temperature margin, and can better withstand the IR's intense radiation levels, which is only going to increase as the systems integrated luminosity jumps as well. In all, the HQ02a's superconducting coils can pump out 12 tesla, that's a 50 per cent increase.
The only problem with niobium tin is that it's so brittle. The material has a tendency to crack under the intense strain of its electromagnetic field. To counteract this fault, engineers at LARP developed a thick, aluminium shell structure to help support the magnet while under load.
“This is a major step forward in reaching our ultimate goals,” said Bruce Strauss, LARP program manager, in a press statement. “It should not be regarded as a single accomplishment but rather the realisation of a significant number of individual goals in the design, construction and testing of Nb3Sn beam-line magnets.”
There's no word on when this specific part will be implemented, but 10 years to unlock one puny secret of the universe seems an interminable wait. [Berkeley Lab]