The LHC conducted its first collisions, pictured here, in 2009. It plans to operate at low power in 2010 and 2011 and then undergo an upgrade before leaping directly to full power.  (Source: CERN)

The LHC cost over $9B USD to complete, but promises to unlock some of the universe's most compelling mysteries.  (Source: CERN)
Full power collisions will begin in 2013 -- after upgrade

September of 2008 was set to be a landmark year for the physics community.  The Large Hadron Collider, a massive 17-mile-long track beneath the Franco-Swiss border was coming online and promised to at last allow physicists to glimpse the long theorized, but never observed Higgs boson, nicknamed the "God particle".

However, a malfunction killed those hopes, pushing the launch back to 2009.  A cold winter slowed repairs and it was August 2009 when the repairs finally wrapped up.  In November the collider was brought back online at last.  Within days it recorded its first collisions and before long set a new world record -- despite operating at a mere fraction of its prospective power.

Amid a winter shutdown, researchers are now planning their next move, even as they sift through a wealth of data collected from the initial collisions.  This week they laid out an ambitious plan for the collider.

In 2010 and 2011 they plan to operate the collider at 3.5 TeV per beam, much more than 1.18 TeV per beam recorded in November, and significantly more than the previous record holder, the U.S.-based Fermilab, which has achieved 1 TeV beams.  To put these numbers in context, a mosquito has about 1 TeV in kinetic energy -- but it has 10
23 to 1024 atoms in them, many with dozens of protons.  The LHC is packing all this energy into a single proton -- a feat akin to packing all the people in the world into a square smaller than the tiniest transistor.

According to the LHC road map, the collider will shut down in 2012, skipping "mid-range" collisions of around 5 TeV per beam.  Instead, it will receive a circuitry upgrade to help it handle its peak designed power -- 7 TeV per beam.  In 2013 it will begin collisions at a record combined energy of about 14 TeV -- about 14 mosquitoes per proton pair, in layman's terms.

Until the LHC achieves peak power in 2013, FermiLab still has a chance to beat it and be the first to observe the Higgs boson.  However, if the particle is less lightweight, it will likely not be observed until the LHC cranks up the juice.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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