As particle physics installations in the U.S. fade into twilight, the international community is fortunately picking up the slack. Their greatest endeavor to date was the construction of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a massive 17 mile long ovoid track on the Swiss/French border, which can provide particle energies of 7 TeV per particle. The collider was scheduled to be by far the largest in the world.
Despite protests and fears, the reactor was turned on late last year. However, during the warm-up tests a miswired circuit in the cooling mechanics, which chilled the tunnel to a temperature colder than outer space, malfunctioned and melted. The result was that the tunnel heated up, and the accelerator was forced to shut down.
Originally, the repairs were prospected to take weeks, then months, and finally almost a year. The reason for the increases was that the entire chamber had to be slow unchilled, a process that could take a month or more. And no repairs could occur during the winter months.
Still, repairs are finally resuming after the winter shutdown and the researchers are confident they can meet their goal of the a July restart. Currently there are 20 or 30 welders performing the repairs, which are estimated at $35M USD, still small with respect to the cost of construction -- approximately $10B USD.
During the repairs, researchers are at work trying to add improvements to the detectors as well. They believe they can implement improvements by the time of the restart, raising the reactors potential (in a figurative sense). States Bob Cousins, deputy to the scientific leader of one of the sensor experiments, "They'll be even more perfect than before. The excitement's building in a similar way that it was a year ago, and, in fact, everybody is working hard to be even more ready than we were a year ago"
Scientists are tweaking two key components of the system. The first is the ATLAS detector, a general purpose particle detector. The second is the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), another general purpose detector. Together the pair will search for the origin of mass.
It is believed that a theoretical particle called the Higgs boson exists, which has been nicknamed the "God particle" by the press. This unique particle is thought to be the origin of the physical phenomena of mass. Its discovery would lay to rest one of the greatest mysteries in the world of quantum physics. Lyn Evans, former project leader for the collider who is currently involved with the machine's repairs describes, "It is the thing that gives a being to all the other particles."
The CMS alone uses a network of 100,000 computers worldwide to analyze its data. Xiaohang Quan, a Princeton University senior, believes that she has come up with a way to improve what data is kept from the experiments and what data is discarded. Her physics professor at Princeton, Christopher Tully, who works on the CMS, says she "came with up with an improvement that we're working on implementing."
One thing's for sure when it comes to the LHC -- the scientific community has high hopes for its late summer restart.