Large Hadron Collider is up and running again

Author: Associated Press

It took a year of repairs before beams of protons circulated late yesterday in
the Large Hadron Collider for the first time since it was heavily damaged by
a simple electrical fault. Circulation of the beams was a significant leap
forward.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research has taken the restart of the
collider step by step to avoid further setbacks as it moves toward new
scientific experiments – probably starting in January – regarding the makeup
of matter and the universe.

Progress on restarting the machine, on the border between Switzerland and
France, went faster than expected yesterday evening and the first beam
circulated in a clockwise direction around the machine at about 10pm local
time, said James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organisation for
Nuclear Research.

“Some of the scientists had gone home and had to be called back in,” Mr
Gillies said.

The exact time of the start of the Large Hadron Collider was difficult to
predict because it was based on how long it took to perform steps along the
way, and in the end it happened about nine hours earlier than expected, Mr
Gillies said.

This is an important milestone on the road toward scientific discoveries at
the LHC, which are expected in 2010, he said.

About two hours later the scientists circulated another beam in the opposite
direction, which was the initial goal in getting the machine going again and
moving it toward collisions of protons, Cern said.

The LHC also will be used later for colliding lead ions – basically the
nucleus of the element that is about 160 times as heavy as a single proton.
That should reveal still more scientific secrets.

“It’s great to see beam circulating in the LHC again,” said Cern Director
General Rolf Heuer.

“We’ve still got some way to go before physics can begin, but with this
milestone we’re well on the way.”

With great fanfare, Cern circulated its first beams September 10, 2008.

But the machine was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered
electrical splice overheated and set off a chain of damage to massive
superconducting magnets and other parts of the collider, in a 17-mile
circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border.

Cern has 40 million US dollars on repairs and improvements on the machine to
avoid a repetition.

“The LHC is a far better understood machine than it was a year ago,” said
Steve Myers, Cern’s director for accelerators.

“We’ve learned from our experience and engineered the technology that allows
us to move on. That’s how progress is made.”

The LHC is expected soon to be running with more energy the world’s current
most powerful accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago. It is
supposed to keep ramping up to seven times the energy of Fermilab in coming
years.

This will allow the collisions between protons on the machine to give insights
into dark matter and what gives mass to other particles, and to show what
matter was in the microseconds of rapid cooling after the Big Bang that many
scientists theorise marked the creation of the universe billions of years
ago.

The two parallel tubes the size of fire hoses send billions of protons
whizzing around the collider in opposite directions at nearly the speed of
light.

In rooms the size of cathedrals 300 feet below the ground the magnets force
them into huge detectors to record what happens.

The beams travelled last night at a relatively low energy level, but Mr
Gillies said the LHC was expected soon to start accelerating them soon so
that the collisions they make will be more powerful – and revealing –
creating as yet unseen insights into nature.

The LHC operates at nearly absolute zero temperature, colder than outer space,
which allows the superconducting magnets to guide the protons most
efficiently.

Physicists have used smaller, room-temperature colliders for decades to study
the atom.

They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the
atom’s nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and
gluons and that there are other forces and particles.

And scientists still have other questions about antimatter, dark matter and
supersymmetry they want to answer with Cern’s new collider.

The Superconducting Super Collider being built in Texas would have been bigger
than the LHC, but in 1993 the US Congress cancelled it after costs soared
and questions were raised about its scientific value

“The next important milestone will be low-energy collisions, expected in about
a week from now,” said Mr Gillies.

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