A visit to the world’s largest machine

Date: Thursday, October 19, 2017

A select group of supporters of the Weizmann Institute recently visited the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, near Geneva. This visit, headed by Prof. Daniel Zajfman, began as a local initiative by the Israeli Friends Association and was later expanded to include other prominent international supporters. The trip began with a warm reception in the home of Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, a friend of Israel, who discussed the long relationship between the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation and the Weizmann Institute.

The group met with the senior management of the facility, headed by Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, Director General of CERN, a world-class scientist from Italy and the first woman to hold this position. The group learned about the Weizmann Institute's contribution to the research efforts conducted at CERN and received an exclusive peek at the seven-story detector, built in part by Weizmann Institute experts. Data gathered in the detector is dispatched directly to a global network of supercomputers, opening a window to understanding what might have occurred during the first minutes of the universe. Institute scientists who accompanied the group were Profs. Yossi Nir, Ehud Duchovni, and Eilam Gross, and Dr. Shikma Bressler. Weizmann friends Alex and Kati Dembitz hosted the group for dinner in their home.

The LHC is a particle accelerator resting in a massive underground tunnel and is the largest machine ever built. But the success of CERN’s multi-year mission depends, in part, on hardware upgrades continuously “hammered out” in a modest workshop tucked away in a remote corner of the Weizmann Institute campus. Institute scientists are among the leaders of the international consortium responsible for the Muon Spectrometer—one of the five subsystems that make up ATLAS, a 7,000-ton detector designed to detect and record over a billion particle collisions that take place in the LHC every second. The massive wheels that now “cap” the extremities of the barrel-shaped ATLAS detector will eventually be joined by two additional and highly sophisticated small wheels. This upgrade—launched by Prof. Giora Mikenberg, who retired in 2015, and now led by Institute physicists—is slated to go live in 2020.

“The new detector wheels will be made up of some 800 units in a quadruplet arrangement, meaning that particle collisions will be measured at four levels along the unit depth,” says Prof. Ehud Duchovni, the ATLAS-Weizmann group leader. “The readings will be 100 times more accurate that what is currently possible.” The prototype technology—a “massively complex printed circuit board”—was completed in May 2017. Now, units based on the prototype are being manufactured in China, Chile, Canada, Russia, and Israel.

The project coordinator is Dr. Bressler, who, like Prof. Duchovni, is a member of the Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics. She says that realizing Prof. Mikenberg’s visionary design requires imagination and lots of testing.