How to Use the LHC




About: particle physicist

Chances are you have heard about the Large Hadron Collider, perhaps because you've read
Dan Browns book, or you've seen the idiots who are afraid of black holes in the news. Or, if you're
really cool, you know what it's really about because you read some media that actually report some
facts about it (i'm not sure these exist outside the science communtiy, though...).
for this instructable i am going to have to assume the latter case.

While not entirely tounge-in-cheek, "How to use the LHC" is quite involved and cannot be finished
in one afternoon just using common household material, like most instructables. Rather, years and
years of tedious work are required, but other than that, you don't really need anything. a laptop helps
but chances are you've got that already...

We will have to require that you have a high school degree or equivalent that let's you enter
universities in your country - or, if your country does not have universities - you need a degree
that lets you study elsewhere.

Step 1: Find Out What's Up With LHC

LHC is run at CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland, built across the border to France.
Read the public stuff at their website:
Or get down with alpinekat:
However, to a certain extend CERN is just a service provider, building, running and maintaining the LHC.
In order to really use it i.e. check out what happens in the proton-proton collisions produced by it,
what you need to do is join one of the experiments.
So, on the CERN website click on "Cern Users" to get to the real content.
There you will find a list of experiments.
Let's ignore the smaller ones for now and have a look at the big f*ckers: ATLAS and CMS:
i put their propagand pictures above.
have look at their webpages and pick one.
if you really think size matters, ATLAS is your choice.

Step 2: Find a Participating University

Next you'll need to find a university that is participating in one of the experiments.
You can find lists in CERN's greybook:

please, do not contact any of the people listed there at this stage!
first, see to it that you can study physics at one of the universities listed.
If you're not from one of the many participating countries, do not despair.
just start studying physics for now, and later get to one of the participating
university via some transfer program. i've seen particle physicists come from
the most unlikely of places.

Step 3: Study Physics

Sit on your ass for several years and work your way through all those books,
do all those excercises, pass all those exams, do all that lab work. understand
general, basic physics at first. Don't forget to party hard with your fellow students,
if student culture in your country allows it. If you're older because you only found
this instructable after you already picked a profession,
you may want to skip that to speed things up a little.

as soon as it comes to specialising pick the particle physics courses.
there are three general methods of operation in particle physics:

- theory. you want a good basis, but if you're becoming a theorist you won't be using the LHC
directly. so for the purpose of this instructable, you don't want to do that.

- detectors. the detectors are pretty much finished at this time, so all you want is a basic
working knowledge, and be prepared to help running a detector.
for the purpose of this instructable, you don't want to engage in detector development.

- experimental. this is the way to go. visit as many courses as you can. once you do, you're
almost there.

at the same time, if it is not foreseen in the curriculum of your university anyway,
try to get good language and computing skills. A good mastery of English is mandatory.
French is also handy because the technicians, admisitrative assistants at CERN and the
general population around CERN speak it. It is not absolutely mandatory, but helps a lot,
for example if you need a chair in your office (once you managed to get one, see later steps).
and you can't have too many computing skills because particle physics is anarchy to a certain
extend and you will have to work with all sorts of programming languages because everybody
just uses what they like in the end. C++ is most important. OS is almost exclusively Linux these days.

(sorry, no images for this step ... couldn't find any safe for work)

Step 4: Write a Thesis

You're almost there. If your university foresees you to do a Masters degree, you will have to work
with a research group to write a thesis. Contact the one you targeted in Step 2.
Convince them they need you. Choose a topic. Tell them, if possible you want use real data.
And convince them that you have to work at CERN, because you know French and because
you are ready to help run the detectors they built earlier.

That's it, you're using the LHC.

If you did everything correctly, you will produce images like the one above, called event displays.
They show tracks and energy depositions from "events" (collisons) produced at the LHC.

Now the tricky part is to stay, but that's beyond the scope of this instructable.



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    25 Discussions


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    they forgot step 3 in the startup procedure, 3. Ensure that your LHC is clean and free from dirt, dust, pizza crumbs and any metallic objects such as beer cans


    4 years ago on Introduction

    not that helpful, I thought we were going to get instructions on how to make one for under $100, very sad :-(


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Bumping a two-year-old I'ble (and yes, I see that you haven't made any comments since June 2009). I don't know if you're still paying any attention to Instructables, but if so, you're not the only professional particle physicist here!

    I was curious how I could have missed this very nice I'ble, but you created it just three weeks before I joined Instructables. I spent a year working with ATLAS (on the pileup simulation), but I'm now splitting my time between GEANT4 and CDMS (dark matter search, no beam-dump problems :-).

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    yes i remember i've seen a guy from SLAC commenting on Instructables before - probably it was you. I still pay a little attention to Instructables, but since the LHC is now running i'm heavily involved in analysis (also for ATLAS btw.) and I have little time for all the nice past-time projects Instructables has to offer.
    Other than that, what's a two-year period for us particle physicists where the projects have 20 yearish lifetimes now - the Instructable may be two years old but the LHC has only just begun, and is even still several years from reaching its full energy. I'll see you around the next black hole i guess ;-)


    9 years ago on Introduction

     For anyone who likes black holes, click below.



    10 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome, I wondered how you used one of these. Half of my school were going around saying "the world will end!" when they switched it on.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Glad you like it. Even if you're still in school, you can still use this instructable. The lifetime of the LHC (and analysis of its data) is very long, maybe 25 years or longer. So if you manage to join in let's say 5 years, you will be still in time to ride the wave (instead of paddle in the wake). especially if there are more delays for the startup.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Why did they spend so much money on this? They should have spend their money and effort on producing a new type of energy which is the #1 concern of the world right now. I think this is obscene and aberrant science. They can conduct the same experiments in the upper atmosphere for very little money.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    u know theres like.. hundreds of "new" types of energy out there.. but the ideas, and the rights to them are being bought up literally, by large for example, oil companies, and car companies. my friends boyfriend and his friends designed this completly electric car ( not the first, but still ) and were offered several million dollars a piece for the rights to the car, by like ford or something so they can keep stuff liek that hush hush. its not that we dont HAVE new energy, its the fact that people in power, like to stay in power


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    You are absolutely right. this LHC is just power play by established academician sucking the money away from other research that would out date them.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Ahh, the lamentations of the uniformed. It's amazing when people go 'Argh! Science! World will end!' Every time something new pops around. I for one would like the see the results of the LHC test, bummer that they have to recycle the cooling in a segment for repairs (takes about.... 3 months to heat up and cool down a segment in order to avoid damaging the components)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    do you know that the lhc has the possibility of ending the world? better take a crap in the middle of a sidewalk soon then...

    4 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    they left out some things, like the chance of our entire universe imploding if...I cant seem to find article at or in my mag that has it...but i think its something about the strucure or integrity of the universe.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    You have a better chance of being struck by lightning, winning the lottery, and being teleported to an alien world simultaneously. The LHC poses no major threat to life as we know it. The most damage it could do to you is irradiate you, but that is only if you somehow manage to get past security and end up inside the testing facility while a test was being run.