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Overview of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) stands as a marvel of modern scientific engineering and proof to the pursuit of understanding the fundamental structure of the universe. It is located at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland, the LHC is the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator.

Conceived in the early 1980s and operational since 2008, the LHC was designed to address some important and unresolved questions in physics. Its primary aim is to explore the validity and limitations of the Standard Model of particle physics, a theory that describes the fundamental particles and forces that constitute our universe. Additionally, it seeks to discover new particles and phenomena, leading to insights into the nature of matter and energy.

The LHC is a circular accelerator, with a circumference of approximately 27 kilometers (17 miles). It is situated underground, in the border between Switzerland and France. The LHC accelerates two high-energy particle beams, of protons or heavy ions, in opposite directions at close to the speed of light. These beams are made to collide at four interaction points, where detectors, including ATLAS, monitor and analyze the resulting particle interactions.

The accelerator's unprecedented energy levels – it can reach up to 14 teraelectronvolts (TeV) – enable it to probe particles and interactions at scales that were previously inaccessible. This has allowed physicists to recreate conditions similar to those just after the Big Bang, offering insights into the origin and evolution of the universe.

The LHC is not only an achievement in terms of its scientific objectives but also a feat of engineering. It employs a complex system of superconducting magnets and accelerating structures to control and accelerate the particle beams. The LHC's modern technology includes the use of liquid helium to cool the magnets to -271.3°C, just above absolute zero, allowing the magnets to operate in a superconducting state.

As represented in the figure, the LHC serves as the centerpiece of CERN's accelerator complex, linking a network of smaller accelerators that pre-accelerate particles before injecting them into the LHC. This complex infrastructure is essential for achieving the high-energy collisions that the LHC is known for.

The CERN accelerator complex

The Large Hadron Collider serves as a foundation for modern physics, pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the universe. Its creation and operation represent a global collaboration of scientists and engineers, and its discoveries continue to shape our comprehension of the fundamental laws governing the universe.