LHC running

Taking a closer look at LHC

The proton source is where it all starts at CERN.

The current proton source is already working in Linac4 after the Long Shutdown 2 2019-2022. Its operation is explained in the Linac4 section. In this case, this new source provides H(-) ions.

For historical reasons, we explain here what the process was like before Linac4 started operating, when Linac2 was the first accelerator in the accelerator chain ending at the LHC.

For more precise information on how proton beams are produced throughout the entire process of inxection, see here.

"To make the protons", physicists injected hydrogen gas into the metal cylinder  -Duoplasmatron-  then surround it with an electrical field to break down the gas into its constituent protons and electrons. This process yields about 70 percent protons.


The particles were accelerated up to 100 kV and then sent to a Radio Frequency Quadrupole (QRF) -- an accelerating component that both speeds up and focuses the particle beam. 4 vanes (electrodes) provided a quadrupole RF field that provided a transverse focusing of the beam.  Spacing of the vanes bunches and  accelerates up to 750 keV the beam.
From the quadrupole, the particles were sended to the linear accelerator (LINAC2). The linac tank was a multi-chamber resonant cavity tuned to a specific frequency which creates potential differences in the cavities that accelerate the particle up to 50 MeV. Protons crossed the linac and reached the 157 m circumference circular accelerator  Proton Synchrotron Booster (PSB) in a few microseconds. Actually, PSB is a circular four rings accelerator.
As it's been said, Linac2 has been replaced for Linac4 after Long Shutdown 2 (2019-2020).


Old Proton source


RF quadrupole - 90 KeV


LINAC2 - 50 MeV


LINAC4 - 160 MeV

The beam line to the PSB from the Linac2 is 80 m long. 20 quadrupole magnets focus the beam along the line 2 bending and 8 steering magnets direct the beam. The PS Booster accelerates them to 1.4 GeV (factor of 28) in 530 ms, then after less than a microsecond they are injected in the 628 m circumference circular accelerator Proton Synchrotron (PS) .

In the PS protons can either: - be accelerated/manipulated/extracted in 1025 ms - or wait for 1.2 more seconds before being accelerated if they are part of the first PSB batch to the PS. They are accelerated to 25 GeV. The PS is responsible for providing 81 bunch packets with 25 ns spacing for the LHC.

Triplets of 81 bunches formed in the PS and injected into the 7 km circumference circular accelerator Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), taking up ~27% of the SPS beamline. They wait for 10.8, 7.2, 3.6, or zero seconds whether they are part of the first, second, third, or fourth PS batch to the SPS. The SPS accelerates them to 450 GeV in 4.3 seconds, and sends it to the LHC.


PS Booster    1.4  GeV


Proton Synchrotron 25  GeV


Super PS   450 GeV

So the time it takes from the source to the exit of the SPS is between

0.53 + 1.025 + 4.3 = 5.86 seconds


0.53 + 1.2 + 1.025 + 10.8 + 4.3 = 17.86 seconds

Protons are finally transferred to the LHC (both in a clockwise and anticlockwise direction, the filling time is 4’20’’ per LHC ring). The total LHC beam consists of 12 “supercycles” of the 234 bunches from SPS. They have to wait up to 20 minutes on the LHC 450 GeV injection plateau before the 25 minutes ramp to high energy, and these 45 minutes dominates the transit time.

LHC   7 TeV (proton)

(2,76 TeV/nucleon Pb ions)

During the long LS2 shutdown (2019-2022), major upgrade and improvement work has been carried out on the accelerator chain.

More information here.

LHC Live

Up-to-date and general information can be found in Meltronx CERN Large Hadron Collider Live Panels (only available in PC).

The beams are stored at high energy for  10 hoursthe so called "beam lifetime", and particles make four hundred million revolutions around the machine. 

The more is the density of the stored particles the more decreases the beam lifetime.Coulomb scattering of charged particles traveling together causes an exchange of momentum between the transverse and longitudinal directions. Due to relativistic effects, the momentum transferred from the transverse to the longitudinal direction is enhanced by the relativistic factor γ. For stored beam, particles are lost if their longitudinal momentum deviation exceeds the RF bucket or the momentum aperture determined by the lattice. This is called the Touschek effect (after the austrian phyisicist Bruno Touschek) and is generally the limiting factor in beam lifetime.

After 10 h of beam collisions, the beam itself is exhausted and is dumped. The dipole magnets are then ramped down to 0.54 T and they stay at flat bottomfor some 20–40 min. Meanwhile beam injection is repeated before the magnets are ramped up again to 8.3 T for another cycle of high energy collisions. The machine is designed to withstand some 20 000 such cycles in 20 years’ lifetime, as well as 20–30 full thermal cycles.


Xabier Cid Vidal, PhD in experimental Particle Physics for Santiago University (USC). Research Fellow in experimental Particle Physics at CERN from January 2013 to Decembre 2015. He was until 2022 linked to the Department of Particle Physics of the USC as a "Juan de La Cierva", "Ramon y Cajal" fellow (Spanish Postdoctoral Senior Grants), and Associate Professor. Since 2023 is Senior Lecturer in that Department.(ORCID).

Ramon Cid Manzano, until his retirement in 2020 was secondary school Physics Teacher at IES de SAR (Santiago - Spain), and part-time Lecturer (Profesor Asociado) in Faculty of Education at the University of Santiago (Spain). He has a Degree in Physics and a Degree in Chemistry, and he is PhD for Santiago University (USC) (ORCID).



CERN Directory

CERN Experimental Program

Theoretical physics (TH)

CERN Experimental Physics Department

CERN Scientific Committees

CERN Structure

CERN and the Environment



Detector CMS

Detector ATLAS

Detector ALICE

Detector LHCb

Detector TOTEM

Detector LHCf

Detector MoEDAL

Detector FASER

Detector SND@LHC



 For the bibliography used when writing this Section please go to the References Section

© Xabier Cid Vidal & Ramon Cid - rcid@lhc-closer.es  | SANTIAGO (SPAIN) |