I just heard the good news last night - the Large Hadron Collider has finally reached their goal of 7 TeV per beam of energy!

But first a little background....

For the last several decades, the primary method of exploring sub-atomic particle physics has been to build a large machine that accelerates common particles, like electrons or protons, to very high energies and then smash them together inside of a special detector. The result is a mini-explosion of new particles which last for a fraction of a second and then disappear - but in that fraction of a second physicists can record their mass, electric charge, lifetime, and a series of other properties. And the higher the energy going in, the more particles and the heavier the particles can be.

About a decade ago, the international particle physics community started  working hard on a new machine that would reach far higher energies than ever possible before. The US was originally going to build one of their own, but government cut-backs ended it before it really got started. So the decision was made to construct the Large Hadron Collider in the existing CERN facilities in Switzerland. 

 The downside of this of course was that the existing particle accelerator there would have to be shut down for many years while the new one was built. 
 And just to prove that some deity or divine spirit has a sense of humor, just as the old LEP experiment was being shutdown there was an indication of new particles in the final data - leading to a debate about whether to run it a little longer to explore this result or get started on the LHC right away.

They did go ahead with construction, and over the last several years the LHC was built. The design would allow two beams of high energy protons to be collided together at energies of 14 TeV, making it the highest energy man-made reaction in particle physics. (In truth cosmic rays in the atmosphere are far more energetic, but they are difficult to study since the time and location are random)

In 2008, back when I was still a graduate student, the LHC was completed and they started it up. Unfortunately there was a glitch in one of the magnets that made it un-usable, so it was immediately shut down again. Since the magnets operate at close to -273C , it takes a long time to slowly thaw them out, do the repairs, and then re-freeze them again. But that was done, and about a year ago they restarted the machine.

But safety and precision are still very important, so they started with low energy beams. And for the last year they have been collecting data, and a few preliminary results were published.

Now they are confident to run the LHC at full power. 

It is expected that at full power, the LHC will be able to discover the Higgs boson - which is the only particle in the Standard Model of particle physics that hasn't been observed after close to 50 years of hunting. The full energy beams may also be able to produce evidence of higher dimensions, of the source of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy, and possibly even the first data on the quantum theory of gravity. It is even possible that it will produce a (completely safe and harmless) black hole!  

 I know I say this a lot, but this is the start of a great era for particle physics and for science in general!