Has there ever been a Small Hadron Col­lider?

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PAM GOUDIE, ISLE OF LEWIS

The fa­mous Large Hadron Col­lider (LHC) has made head­lines with its un­prece­dented power to probe the na­ture of mat­ter. But the LHC is the cul­mi­na­tion of decades of re­search into ways of smash­ing to­gether sub­atomic par­ti­cles with ever greater vi­o­lence.

In the 1960s, physi­cists be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing ways of boost­ing the en­ergy of par­ti­cle col­li­sions by run­ning two beams of par­ti­cles into each other, rather than sim­ply smash­ing one beam into a sta­tion­ary tar­get. In 1970, sci­en­tists at CERN near Geneva un­veiled the In­ter­sect­ing Stor­age Rings (ISR), which used mag­nets to ac­cel­er­ate and then bring to­gether two streams of pro­tons (par­ti­cles be­long­ing to the fam­ily known as ‘hadrons’). It was the world’s first hadron col­lider.

De­spite be­ing just 150m across, the de­sign of the ISR boosted the im­pact en­ergy 30-fold com­pared to hit­ting a fixed tar­get. Over 30 years later, the same ba­sic idea was in­cor­po­rated into the LHC, which is over 8.5km across and achieves en­er­gies 200 times greater still.

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