As students around the world return to school, or start college, or begin new coursework and training of other kinds, particle physicists are also starting new things in the form of new data runs from the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC has already produced evidence of the Higgs boson, and added further constraints to many other theories of nature. The next data run could easily find evidence of dark matter, dark energy, or even hidden higher dimensions in the Universe.

However the topic of today's article is not about the LHC, but about the next generation of particle accelerator, the High Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC). 

The LHC is capable of producing high energy particle physics reactions, and at present is the most energetic particle accelerator on Earth (There are higher energy accelerators which occur naturally in space, but they are harder to study), but it is limited in the number of reactions that it can produce each year. We can produce high energy reactions, but at a limited rate.

And so scientists are already preparing to upgrade the LHC to produce a greater number of reactions. Engineers and technicians have started winding new electromagnets, and in January 2017 a team at the Brookhaven National Laboratory successfully tested a 4.5m electromagnet and set a record for the largest magnet of that type that has ever been produced. At CERN work has begun on an even larger 7m electromagnet. These new magnets will be using an innovative superconducting material based on a niobium-tin compound that was not available when the original magnets were constructed, and are expected to be approximately 50% stronger than those currently installed.

If everything goes according to schedule, in seven years the LHC will be shutdown and the team at CERN will begin to replace more than a kilometer of magnets, electronics and support structures. Two years later the new HL-LHC will be turned on, and will begin producing reactions at a higher energy and higher rate than before. Early estimates are that the new design will be producing and detecting high energy particle reactions at a rate nearly ten times greater than the LHC is capable of.

Of course this is still a long way away for physicists. If everything goes according to plan, the first data run of the HL-LHC will begin in 2026 and the first data available for analysis will not be released for at least a decade. However those of us still working in the physics research in the year 2027 (and those youths who are just now dreaming of a scientific career) can expect some truly amazing results from this new machine. 

The project is just beginning, but before the end of the next decade it will have changed our knowledge of nature and the Universe. We can only wait patiently for this amazing new machine to reveal more of nature's secrets!