International collaboration unlocks the universe

ATLAS Experiment © 2012 CERN

Our scientists are using the most powerful man-made tool in physics to answer some of the universe's most fundamental questions.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) is the world's largest physics laboratory. Located 100 metres underground near Geneva, it has been home to some of the most groundbreaking achievements in science, including the implementation the world wide web.

It's also home to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 27-kilometre tunnel around which protons are beamed at a fraction below the speed of light. In 2012 the LHC enabled the discovery of the Higgs boson, which is believed to be responsible for the mass of all other particles.

The University has played a vital part in research at CERN. We're a founding member of the ATLAS Collaboration, which comprises more than 3,000 members from 174 universities and laboratories across 38 countries.

Such is the power of the new, improved LHC that just one day's worth of data in 2015 could be equivalent to all the data taken previously by the LHC since 2010 in terms of production of new particles. It's a tremendously exciting time to be a particle physicist.

Professor Dan Tovey, the Department of Physics and Astronomy

ATLAS is one of four main detectors which run at CERN's LHC. Beams of particles collide at ATLAS' centre thanks to huge superconducting magnets. The collision point is surrounded by detecting subsystems which record the movement of particles, allowing scientists to identify them.

Our team, led by Professor Dan Tovey of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, have been active in all aspects of ATLAS, from its design and construction through to the analysis of the final data.

The University is one of the key sites delivering data processing to ATLAS, with our own computing cluster connected to the worldwide LHC Computing Grid.

Our work with ATLAS has the potential to transform the way in which we understand how the universe operates.

The LHC has been restarted after a two-year maintenance and upgrade period in order for scientists to check and improve the electrical connections between the superconducting magnets. The facility is now even more powerful than previously, with its energy level being raised to 13 tera-electron volts (TeV).

Professor Dan Tovey, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University, said: "This extra energy will greatly increase the potential of the LHC experiments for discovering new particles such as dark matter and particles predicted by new theories such as supersymmetry.

"Such is the power of the new, improved LHC that just one day's worth of data in 2015 could be equivalent to all the data taken previously by the LHC since 2010 in terms of production of new particles. It's a tremendously exciting time to be a particle physicist."

Through our links with CERN, our students are encouraged to engage with this pioneering facility through visits and research placements. Physics and philosophy student Katherine Chapman spent four months working as a science communication intern in the EU Projects Group. She said, "Working in such a diverse and challenging environment makes you feel that you could achieve anything."