Particle physics experiments are millions of time more powerful than they were 40 years ago

I am currently reading Beamtimes and Lifetimes, Sharon Traweek’s excellent anthropological study of the culture at particle physics laboratories in the 1970s when I stumbled upon a remarkable fact. The event rate of particle colliders has increased by a factor of 10 million between the 70s and 2016.

According to this 1976 SLAC report [1], the Large Aperture Solenoid Spectrometer (LASS) could record 100 events every second. That certainly sounds like a lot, but by contrast, by 2016 the LHC was producing 1 billion proton collisions per second [2]. That is 10 million times the rate as ~40 years ago (and at much higher energy) [3]. That is remarkable!

[1] P.F. Kunz, The LASS hardware processor, SLAC-PUB-1723 (March 1976)
[2] S. Charley, LHC smashes old collision records, Symmetry Magazine (September 2016)
[3] The caveat here is that these rates probably shouldn’t be compared apples-to-apples like this, since the LHC doesn’t record 1 billion events per second, and there are other complicated factors.

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