The University of Kansas

Smashing success

KU physicists supercharge super collider camera

The shutter speed on Alice Bean’s camera is so fast it captures images of protons moving at nearly the speed of light.

The pixel detector is so precise it sees the footprints of these protons as small as one-tenth the diameter of a single strand of hair.

And the readout chip she and her team developed is so advanced it sifts through millions of snapshots to find only the most significant data.

Bean, professor of physics and astronomy, led a team of KU physicists during a recent upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider, the super collider in Geneva, Switzerland, regarded by scientists as the most complex and powerful machine ever created.

By studying subatomic particle collisions, scientists gain a better understanding of how the physical world works and see the universe in new ways.

When Alice Bean isn’t working on the Large Hadron Collider or teaching at KU, she’s busy developing a particle physics game for children — including an app called Baryon Blaster, in which players shoot quarks at passing protons in a subatomic universe.

Scientists cranked up the collider’s energy level in early 2015, allowing them to smash protons together with record-breaking momentum and create nearly twice the number of particle collisions. They needed a way to capture the avalanche of data.

That’s when Bean’s team went to work.

The equipment Bean’s team created not only handles the collider’s “new normal” — 50 collisions per test run instead of 20 or 30 — but also captures the collisions’ higher energy.

The improved reader then filters the data down to only the most relevant results. Only 100 of the 40 million images captured per second “make it to tape.”

Among those images, Bean says, may be data that one day help verify the Higgs discovery, find new supersymmetric particles, or identify microscopic black holes.

Bean’s team look over their work, which filters data produced by the Large Hadron Collider

"The video on your iPhone takes somewhere around 30 frames a second, while our cameras take 40 million pictures per second."
— Alice Bean

The Physics and Astronomy Machine Shop provides high quality design assistance and mechanical fabrication services for Bean’s team.