The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

CERN's Discerning Detectors

Novel pixel sensors will be key to capturing quarry

4 min read

Toward the end of this year, scientists at the European particle physics laboratory CERN will power up the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a circular, 27- kilometer-long crash-test course for protons, which straddles the French-Swiss border outside Geneva. Their main quarry will be a tantalizing subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, considered pivotal to our understanding of mass and predicted by the so-called Standard Model, an integrated explanation of all elementary particles and forces except for gravity.

Two of the LHC's detectors are designed specifically to find the Higgs: CMS (for Compact Muon Solenoid) and Atlas (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus). Both CMS and Atlas focus on proton-proton collisions, but their designs employ somewhat different detection techniques so as to hedge bets. The scale and scope of the rival experiments, not to mention the equipment itself, are almost unfathomable. Atlas pits 1800 physicists at 150 universities in 35 countries against a similar number of scientists developing the CMS experiment at 181 institutions in 38 countries.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions
Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

Keep Reading ↓Show less