The CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) facility is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. At the $10 billion LHC, two beams of subatomic particles called “hadrons” travel in opposite directions inside a 17-mile tunnel in the machine, accelerated to nearly the speed of light, gaining energy as they go, until they smash into each other. That smashing of atomic particles and the aftermath of what emerges from those collisions are what scientists are studying.
The use of beryllium in the beam pipe which is located at the heart of the interaction area which the subatomic particle collisions are occurring brings several benefits to the LHC:
First, the beryllium in the beam pipes allows the subatomic particles, which CERN is searching for, to pass from the vacuum to the detectors unobstructed, because of its low atomic number and low density. Those properties make beryllium the material of choice surrounding the collision region in collider particle physics experiments.
Second, beryllium’s stiffness allows it to remain dimensionally stable, even with the required ultra-high vacuum (UHV) inside.
Third, its thermal stability allows it to perform well at temperatures only a few degrees above absolute zero;
Fourth, its low atomic number keeps it from becoming radioactive with all of the radiation bombarding it, and;
Finally, its lack of magnetism allows the system of multi-pole magnets to steer and focus the particle beam without interference.
This application of a critical material underlines the essential role that critical materials are important to Europe’s economy and essential to drive future innovations in maintaining Europe’s technological leadership in a highly competitive world economy. Please see our website for even more applications where beryllium fosters innovation, advancements in science and in technology.
The beryllium beam pipe is truly the centrepiece of the experimental hardware, as it is located at the heart of the interaction area, which the subatomic particle collisions are occurring. The CMS Experiment weighs over 12,000 tons and you can see the massive scale evident by the men in the photo.