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CERN's top physicists examine the Large Hadron Collider. To their chagrin they discovered the recent damage was worse than expected and will likely take the collider offline for months.  (Source: CERN)
Scientists discover collider woes worse than originally thought

When it came online, the Large Hadron Collider became the world's largest particle accelerator and promised to tread on undiscovered country in understanding the behavior and nature of energy and matter.  Despite criticism, the device powered up and made a series of successful test firings of the collider's proton beam.  The firings actually surprised scientists by having virtually no problems -- in fact the testing was days ahead of schedule.

Then disaster struck.  The transformer used to cool the 17 mile ring, located near the France-Switzerland border, broke, raising the temperature from 2 Kelvin to approximately 4.5 Kelvin, an inoperable temperature.  Working quickly, it appeared scientists had a fix, finally replacing the transformer last week.

Now it appears there's more bad news for the expensive device.  James Gillies, spokesman for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (the organization leading the project), announced that the damage to the collider was more extensive than previously thought, and it would be offline for at least 2 months.  Experts discover the damage when they went into the circular tunnel that the LHC's superconductor track is housed in.  Looking at the collider's housing they realized that much more repairs would be necessary.

Explains Mr. Gillies, "It's too early to say precisely what happened, but it seems to be a faulty electrical connection between two magnets that stopped superconducting, melted and led to a mechanical failure and let the helium out."

In order to repair the damaged section, it will have to be warmed gradually, so operators can safely enter and work on it.  Describes Mr. Gillies, "A number of magnets raised their temperature by around 100 degrees.  We have now to warm up the whole sector in a controlled manner before we can actually go in and repair it."

The repairs will likely be a costly setback to the collider, which already has cost over $10B USD to deploy.  Mr. Gillies says that setbacks such as these are not unusual with particle colliders.  What is unusual is how difficult the repairs are going to be.  The LHC operates much colder than the average collider, at near absolute zero.  According to Mr. Gillies the LHC when operational is colder than most interstellar space.  This allows it to operate at optimal efficiency.  However, it also makes repairs a painful process.

Explains Mr. Gillies, "When (problems) happen in our other accelerators, it's a matter of a couple of days to fix them.  But because this is a superconducting machine and you've got long warmup and cool-down periods, it means we're going to be off for a couple of months."

Thus the researchers and LHC construction workers and operators have their work cut out for them for the next couple months.  They must first warm the tunnel, then make repairs, and then finally cool it back down.  Only once these repairs have been complete can CERN researchers recommence testing, with fingers crossed that this time nothing fails.




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