Welcome to the ATLAS cavern, aka UX15, the 100 metre underground construction site of the ATLAS detector, the largest and most elaborate particle physics experiment in the world, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) on the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland.
One of four big experiments being prepared for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a particle accelerator ring currently being installed in a 50-150 metre underground tunnel 27 kilometres in circumference astride the border between Switzerland and France, ATLAS is designed to explore the fundamental nature of matter and the basic forces that shape our universe.
Accelerated by the LHC, protons in two counter-rotating beams will be kept circulating for hours, guided by thousands of powerful superconducting magnets operating at 300 degrees below room temperature, before colliding in the heart of the ATLAS detector at almost the speed of light. The resulting energy of colliding protons will transform fleetingly into particle debris to be examined for signs of extremely rare events such as the creation of the much-sought Higgs boson.
With a rate of 800 million collisions per second, the LHC will be world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator when it commences operations in 2007 and ATLAS will be the largest collaborative effort ever attempted in the physical sciences with 1,800 physicists (including 400 students) participating from more than 150 universities and laboratories in 34 countries, all of which eager to see what new discoveries it will reveal.
Special thanks to all at CERN for facilitating this fascinating glimpse into a truly unique facility, in particular, Sophie Sanchis, Press Office, and Dino De Paoli, Experimental Area Assistant Manager.