LHC sets world record for particle acceleration

Only 10 days after being restarted, the Large Hadron Collider has taken the world record for beam intensity from the Tevatron at Fermi Lab

The recently restarted Large Hadron Collider has become the world's most powerful particle accelerator, after setting a new record for beam intensity.

Scientists working at the particle collider successfully accelerated a beam of protons up to 1.18 tera-electron-volts (TeV) late on Sunday night, beating the previous record of 0.98 TeV, Cern has announced. In the early hours of Monday morning, both the clockwise and the anticlockwise beams were accelerated to 1.18 TeV, giving the protons a speed of approximately 0.9997 times the speed of light.

The previous record for beam intensity was 0.98 TeV, held by the Tevatron at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago since 2001.

"Last night's achievement brings further confirmation that the LHC is progressing smoothly towards the objective of first physics early in 2010," Cern said in a statement on Monday.

The mission of the LHC, deep underground in a 27km circuit that crosses the French-Swiss border, is to smash together particles in the hope of making discoveries about the fundamental nature of matter. When collided together, protons at this speed annihiliate in a burst of energy and other particles; the higher the speed, the more exotic the results.

The first beams were injected into the LHC on 20 November, when it restarted after being out of operation for more than a year while Cern repaired damage caused by a helium leak. The particle accelerator performed its first collisions on 23 November.

A Cern spokesperson said on Monday that no fresh collisions had been observed at the higher beam intensity of 1.18 TeV. "[The aim] was just to increase the beam intensity," the spokesperson told ZDNet UK.

Cern director general Rolf Heuer said in the statement on Monday that while progress since the restart had been good, he was still cautious about prospects of taking the beam to 3.5 TeV in the new year.

"We are still coming to terms with just how smoothly the LHC commissioning is going," said Heuer. "It is fantastic. However, we are continuing to take it step by step, and there is still a lot to do before we start physics in 2010. I'm keeping my champagne on ice until then."

The beam intensity will be gradually increased up until Christmas, while the first new physics experiments will be performed in the first quarter of 2010.