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The Intersecting Storage Rings

Protons head on

The Intersecting Storage Rings

By the late 1950s, physicists knew that a huge gain in collision energy would come from colliding particle beams head on, rather than by using a single beam and a stationary target. At CERN, accelerator experts conceived the idea to use the Proton Synchrotron (PS) to feed two interconnected rings where two intense proton beams could be built up and then made to collide. The project for the Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR) was formally approved in 1965 and on 27 January 1971 the ISR produced the world’s first proton–proton collisions.

For the next 13 years the machine provided a unique view of the minuscule world of particle physics. It also allowed CERN to gain valuable knowledge and expertise for subsequent colliding-beam projects, and ultimately the Large Hadron Collider. For example, it was here that Simon van der Meer’s ideas to produce intense beams by a process called ‘stochastic cooling’ were first demonstrated. The ISR later produced the world’s first proton-antiproton collisions on 4 April 1981, paving the way for proton-antiproton collisions in the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), and the Nobel prize for van der Meer and Carlo Rubbia.

The ISR proved to be an excellent instrument for particle physics. By the time the machine closed down in 1984, it had produced many important results, including indications that protons contain smaller constituents, ultimately identified as quarks and gluons.