Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) reached another first Wednesday on July 25. They turned full atoms (with electrons that connected them) close to the speed of light.
The question of whether these were really the first "atoms" that have accelerated people to these speeds is a bit semantic; The LHC accelerates atomic nuclei of one kind or another all the time. (That's why people sometimes call the huge machine operated by the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, a "nuclear destroyer.") But it's the first time that these cores have electrons orbiting them. In this case, CERN stated in a press release that researchers accelerated lead nuclei, each orbited by a single electron, for about one hour in a relatively low energy beam.
Then, "they accelerated the LHC to its full power and held the beam for about two minutes before it was ejected." [Photos: The World̵
In a follow-up attempt, they held the full beam for two hours with a smaller group of atoms upright.
Michaela Schaumann, an LHC physicist, said in a statement challenging to accelerate atoms with electrons, "because it's very easy to accidentally remove the electron … If that happens, the core crashes into the wall of the beam tube because its charge is no longer synchronized with the magnetic field of the LHC. "
The Multi One billion euro experiment has safeguards to protect itself, he said, when a jet becomes unstable, it is automatically dumped to protect the LHC.
CERN, however, said the complex atomic beams proved more stable. That's good news, "said Schaumann, because it opens the door to a multitude of new experiments. The most interesting? Using the complex atoms as gamma ray sources. As electrons move from high to low energy states, they emit photons (light particles). And at the speeds of the LHC, these photons would have the wavelengths and energies of gamma rays, which could be difficult to manufacture in a laboratory.
Originally published on Live Science.