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Communications of the ACM


Accelerating Search

workers maintaining the Large Hadron Collider

Workers insert a new CMS Beam Pipe during maintenance on the Large Hadron Collider.

Credit: Michael Hoch 2015 CERN

Everything about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the particle accelerator most famous for the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, is massive—from its sheer size to the grandeur of its ambition to unlock some of the most fundamental secrets of the universe. At 27 kilometers (17 miles) in circumference, the accelerator is easily the largest machine in the world. This size enables the LHC, housed deep beneath the ground at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva, to accelerate protons to speeds infinitesimally close to the speed of light, thus creating proton-on-proton collisions powerful enough to recreate miniature Big Bangs.

The data about the output of these collisions, which is processed and analyzed by a worldwide network of computing centers and thousands of scientists, is measured in petabytes: for example, one of the LHC's main pixel detectors, the ultra-durable high-precision cameras that capture information about these collisions, records an astounding 40 million pictures per second—far too much to store in its entirety.


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