Until Next Fall, LHC Smashes Only Hopes, Not Particles

By Eliza Strickland | February 10, 2009 1:48 pm

LHC weldingAfter all the excitement and anticipation surrounding the Large Hadron Collider‘s launch last September, its first few months have been an anticlimactic cascade of disappointments. When a fault shut down the subatomic particle collider just nine days after the first beam of protons whizzed around its 17-mile track, officials at first said it would take several weeks to repair. Then they revised that estimate, saying it wouldn’t be fixed until spring of 2009–and then that changed to summer of 2009. Now, officials say that repairs won’t be finished before September, at the earliest.

To appease impatient high-energy physicists, the laboratory will probably run the machine (albeit at reduced powers) for a ten-month stretch from November until the autumn of 2010 [Nature News]. Officials at CERN, the European agency that runs the collider, hadn’t planned to run it through the winters when electricity costs are higher; they estimate that this appeasement will cost them an extra $10.5 million for electricity.

The repair timeline has stretched out as researchers realized the extent of the damage, and found further flaws in the ring of superconducting magnets, which guide the beams of particles. In the accident in September, a weld between two sections of the superconducting wire failed. In the minutes after the accident, several tonnes of liquid helium used to cool the magnets vaporized, creating a pressure build-up that wrenched magnets from their concrete stands. In total 53 superconducting magnets must be removed so they can be cleaned, repaired or replaced. Further diagnostic work has since found two more bad welds in magnets in other sectors [Nature News]. To fix the welds, sectors of the LHC need to be warmed up from their freezing cold operating temperature of -456 degrees Fahrenheit,  and the liquid helium in those sectors will have to be stored or shunted to another part of the track.

The repaired LHC will have a few new safety precautions built in. CERN is now installing an early-warning system to detect nano-ohm rises in resistance in the superconducting wires that power the LHC’s bending magnets. It is also fitting all magnets with additional pressure relief valves to reduce collateral damage in case of a similar incident. Half of the valves will be in place this year [New Scientist].

Despite its slow start, physicists are definitely staying tuned for the LHC to turn back on in September, and for the first particle collisions to occur four to five weeks later. Physicists hope those collisions will reveal the elusive Higgs boson particle, which is believed to endow other particles with mass, and say it could also uncover hitherto unknown particles–or even evidence of other dimensions. The exciting and anticipation is already building.

Related Content:
80beats: LHC’s Repairs Will Cost More and Take Even Longer Than Hoped
80beats: LHC Won’t Be Back Online Until Spring of 2009
80beats: Large Hadron Collider Mishap Could Delay Particle Smashing for Weeks
80beats: First Protons Whiz Around the Large Hadron Collider’s Track
DISCOVER: The Extremely Long Odds Against the Destruction of the Earth

Image: CERN

  • Bruce Voigt

    I have shut down my Earth wobbling experiment and in understanding get a vague idea of Earth wobbling activity by changes happening around the world. To date this natural phenomenon has not subsided and is becoming a bit worrisome.

    It is time to set aside old untrue knowledge and get cracking in the direction of making things that are happening and what’s to come a little easier to cope with.

    Fish farming is a good example and I really think the likes of portable orange groves, “as silly as it may sound to you” is something to think about.

    A bad example is the above-mentioned research on fusion. A terrible amount of money and time has gone into something about colliding things to get the results we see and hear in the AURA borealis (northern lights) or how about the crackling and light show you get taking off a wool sweater in the dark.

    Bruce Voigt

  • Richard Smoker

    Mr. Bruce Voight,

    Put down the crackpipe & nobody gets hurt.

  • Ryan Parrotte

    Bruce, it’s almost not worth debating with you the great things the LHC provides science. You seem to be harboring hostility towards the phenomenon you call “aura” borealis, I hope you get that figured out. Either way I think understanding the nature of black holes, dark matter and the like are much more important than…portable orange groves? Why have I never heard of such a thing?

  • Mikko Sorsa

    Well, at least he is not claiming that we’re all creating miniature black holes that are going to engulf everything by taking off our wool sweaters as proven by the “light and crackling” in the dark.


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