Australian scientists helped to build key parts of the ATLAS detector, one of two general purpose detectors positioned around the 27km loop of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
There are around 3,000 physicists, engineers and researchers undertaking post-doctoral studies who work directly on the ATLAS experiment. This includes, at any one time, about 30 personnel from Australia.
“ATLAS’ main reason for existence is the search for the Higgs boson,” explains Associate Professor Kevin Varvell from the University of Sydney and Sydney Node Director for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP).
ATLAS has around 35 tonnes of copper shielding that was machined in Australia and shipped to the research facility near Geneva, which opened in 2008 as the world’s fastest particle accelerator.
Australia is involved in monitoring the ongoing experiment - which smashes together beams containing billions of protons traveling near the speed of light - and it also hosts one of the computer farms used to process its mountain of data.
ATLAS generates enough information to fill 100,000 CDs per second however it only records data that might show signs of new physics - which amounts to about 27 CDs-worth per minute.
“A lot of the actual number crunching is done in large computer farms – there is one in Australia attached to the University of Melbourne,” says Associate Professor Varvell.
“It used to be the case that these big experiments could be done in the CERN computer centre but with the LHC, the size of the task now is so large the data is farmed out all over the planet. It is very much a global effort these days.”
The ATLAS experiment has involved physicists from 174 institutions, and 38 countries.
Australia’s involvement in the LHC is co-ordinated by the CoEPP - a body which brings together experts in high energy particle physics from the University of Melbourne, Monash University, the University of Sydney and the University of Adelaide.
CoEPP director Professor Geoff Taylor says this signalled a new phase in Australia’s relationship with the LHC which has spanned more than 20 years and there was more work to do in the future.
“It was R&D in the beginning, then development of the prototypes and engineering then installation,” says Professor Taylor from the University of Melbourne.
“Now we’re contributing to the operation of the detector and in the coming years we’ll start a project for the upgrade. We have played a relatively strong role for a small country, a small group.”
The latest batch of ATLAS data will be presented at the ICHEP 2012 conference in Melbourne (4 – 11 July).
It will presented along with data from the CMS experiment, also underway at the LHC and which is independently looking for signs of the Higgs boson.
There are hopes this data will enable physicists to conclusively prove, or rule out, its existence.
The ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP) was established in February 2011, to work on global endeavors in high energy physics, advanced computing and accelerator science.
The Australian Research Council’s funding commitment is for $25 million over 7 years.
This currently supports the work of more than 20 senior investigators and 60 students or post-doctoral researchers.
Melbourne Node Director is Professor Ray Volkas
Monash Node Director is Associate Professor Csaba Balasz
Adelaide Node Director is Professor Anthony Thomas
Sydney Node Director is Associate Professor Kevin Varvell.
CoEPP Centre Director is Professor Geoff Taylor.
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