Brookhaven physicists and engineers are participating in one of the most ambitious scientific projects in the world – constructing, operating, doing physics analysis of the data, and upgrading a machine the size of a seven-story building that will open up new frontiers in the human pursuit of knowledge about elementary particles and their interactions.
The machine, dubbed ATLAS, is one of four facilities located at the LHC near Geneva, in Switzerland. The LHC consists of two circular vacuum pipes in which protons travel in opposite directions and collide at nearly the speed of light with a total collision energy of 14 tera-electron volts (TeV), or 14 trillion times the designed energy of an electron.
ATLAS is designed to detect particles created by the proton-proton collisions. One of its main goals is to look for a particle dubbed Higgs, which may be the source of mass for all matter. Findings also may offer insight into new physics theories as well as a better understanding of the origin of the universe.
Brookhaven is the headquarters for the 44 U.S. institutions contributing to the project (see a complete list). In total, 176 laboratories and universities around the world are involved in the ATLAS collaboration.
The ATLAS detector has a cylindrical shape with layers stacked onto each other, like the layers of a cylindrical onion. Each of the layers detects different types of particles. When particles from the accelerator collisions are produced in the center of ATLAS, they move throughout the experiment and are detected by its successive layers.