CERN at a Glance

Last week we explored how the LHC, a beast of a machine, confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson in 2013. But what does that mean for the future of CERN now?

CERN is efficient at pushing the limits of science – the search for the Higgs boson was only one of the goals that CERN aspired to accomplish. By carrying out numerous experiments simultaneously, CERN can save money, time and manpower. The versatility in the use of the LHC is one reason why it is such an astounding work of machinery.


There are more rings here than in a Pandora store. Actually that may not be true, but these rings CERN-tainly cost more.

With a circumference of 27 km, the LHC is mother of all particle accelerators. Four particle detectors (the yellow dots) lie on the LHC – when collisions between particles occur at these detectors, the data are sent off to various control rooms to be analysed.

Then there are also smaller particle accelerators and more obscure facilities that were constructed for a variety of purposes. There are so many it would be take an eternity to delve into each of them – so this is CERN at a glance.

Particle Accelerators

LINAC 2 – all protons used in CERN begin their journey in a bottle of hydrogen gas in LINear ACcelerator 2. Hydrogen atoms are stripped of electrons by an electric field, so that only protons enter the accelerators.

LINAC 3 – LINear ACcelerator 3 is the starting point for all ions (generally lead) used in CERN.

Booster – the Proton Synchotron Booster receives protons from LINAC 2 at low energy and inject them into the PS at higher energy.

LEIR – the Low Energy Ion Ring transforms the long pulses of ions from LINAC 3 into shorter pulses suitable for acceleration.

PS – the Proton Synchotron accelerates protons from the Booster or heavy ions from the LEIR and feeds them to the more powerful accelerators.

SPS – the Super Proton Synchotron is the second largest accelerator within CERN’s facilities, and measures nearly 7 km in circumference. The SPS accelerates protons even further and delivers them to the LHC, where they approach the speed of light.

AD – the Antiproton Decelerator produces low-energy antiprotons by firing protons from the PS onto a block of metal. These antiprotons are delivered to their respective experiments.


ISOLDE – the Isotope mass Separator On-Line DEtector targets proton beams from the PS to produce radioactive atomic nuclei that are analysed. These type of nuclei have potential applications in other areas of science.

nTOF – the neutron Time-of-flight Facility studies neutron-nucleus interactions. Proton beams from the PS are fired at a lead target to produce a shower of neutrons.

ATLAS – A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS is one of two general-purpose detectors investigating a wide range of phenomena from extra dimensions to dark matter.

CMS – the Compact Muon Solenoid is simlar to ATLAS, but has a slightly different technological design. Along with ATLAS, the CMS played a major role in the search for the Higgs boson.

ALICE – A Large Ion Collider Experiment studies extreme states of matter such as the quark-gluon plasma, in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the environment just after the Big Bang.

LHCb – the Large Hadron Collider beauty investigates why our universe consists of far more matter than antimatter by studying a particle called the beauty quark.

AMS – the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is a detector attached to the International Space Station to look for dark matter and antimatter related observations, and for measurements of cosmic rays.

There are so many more experiments that are conducted at CERN, but you get the idea. They’re pretty efficient at what they do.


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