Welcome, 2012!

The year 2011 was a banner year for CMS, as was described in a recent CMS Result. In a single year, the LHC delivered half as much data as the Tevatron did over a full decade. We announced incredible new insights on the mass of the Higgs boson. World-class limits on new physics ideas involving supersymmetry and hypothetical objects smaller than quarks ensures that the research program at the LHC will be an exciting and vibrant one for the next decade.

So what will 2012 bring? If the LHC performs as expected, we can anticipate recording a lot more data than we have so far. However, several decisions need to be made. Originally, the LHC was designed to run at a collision energy of 14 TeV, but a soldering failure in 2008 stopped operations for a year and a half. Pending an extensive reconfiguration of the electrical connections of the entire accelerator, the LHC began operations in 2010 at half the design energy, guaranteeing stable and reliable performance. It was at this 7 TeV collision energy that the experiments’ have achieved their successes of the last year. However, with a solid year of operations with intense beams, it seems that we might be able to safely push the collision energy up to 8 TeV in 2012. If this decision is made, it will increase the production of Standard Model Higgs bosons up 15 percent and will increase the discovery potential for very energetic new physics by as much as a factor of five.

In addition, the LHC was originally designed to collide proton beams every 25 nanoseconds. However, in 2011, the collisions were made to occur at a more leisurely 50 nanoseconds. A nanosecond is a billionth of a second, so leisurely is relative here. This pace is easier to achieve technically, but has the down-side of allowing more simultaneous collisions, which are harder to sort out.

In early February, senior representatives from the LHC and LHC experiments will present all of the options to the CERN Director Rolf-Dieter Heuer. The director will consider all the laboratory’s obligations and make a decision on how the LHC will operate in 2012: 7 vs. 8 TeV, 25 vs. 50 nanoseconds. The predicted amount of beam the experiments will receive in 2012 depend on these decisions, but a repeat of 2011 is essentially assured and an increase of 2-3 times is a possible, although aggressive, goal. Resumed collisions will commence in early March.

What discoveries will 2012 bring? That’s the tricky thing about discoveries. You have to find them first. Still, it is extremely likely that the Higgs boson situation will be definitively sorted out in 2012.

This year will end with a long, two-year, shutdown to undertake the modifications necessary to bring the LHC up to the design energy. The spring of 2015 will open up another frontier.

But first, we must mine the data recorded next year to search for every hint of discovery. With more data, a better understanding of the detector, and fresh new ideas, it seems likely that 2012 will show us that 2011 was just a warm up.

—Don Lincoln