CERN has announced that it plans to boost the energy of the large Hadron Collider (LHC) this year, with the aim of gathering as much data as possible before it goes into a planned shutdown.
It says the LHC will run with a beam energy of 4 TeV this year, 0.5 TeV higher than in 2010 and 2011.
"When we started operating the LHC for physics in 2010, we chose the lowest safe beam energy consistent with the physics we wanted to do," says CERN’s director for accelerators and technology, Steve Myers.
"Two good years of operational experience with beam and many additional measurements made during 2011 give us the confidence to safely move up a notch, and thereby extend the physics reach of the experiments before we go into the LHC’s first long shutdown."
Last year's runs narrowed the range of masses at which the Higgs particle could exist to a window of just 16 GeV. Within this window, both the ATLAS and CMS experiments have seen hints that a Higgs might exist in the mass range 124-126 GeV.
However, says CERN, firming up these hints requires one more year’s worth of data - and the LHC is scheduled to enter a long technical stop at the end of this year to prepare for running at its full design energy of around 7 TeV per beam.
"By the time the LHC goes into its first long stop at the end of this year, we will either know that a Higgs particle exists or have ruled out the existence of a Standard Model Higgs," says research director Sergio Bertolucci.
"Either would be a major advance in our exploration of nature, bringing us closer to understanding how the fundamental particles acquire their mass, and marking the beginning of a new chapter in particle physics."
The new schedule will have beams back up and running in the LHC next month. continuing through to November. There will then be a long technical stop of around 20 months, with the LHC restarting close to its full design energy late in 2014 and operating for physics at the new high energy in early 2015.