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The bad news keeps stacking up for the world's largest particle accelerator; will only be partially functional next year

The largest particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider was a bold multinational effort that cost billions of dollars and required some of the world's brightest minds.  However, this once glowing beacon of scientific progress became a massive mess not long after it went operational.

Coming online in September, the LHC blew a transformer that controlled its cooling in preliminary test firings.  Without the cooling, the LHC could not operate.  It was later found that a single bad solder was to blame for the failure, which not only blew out the transformer, but melted much of the attached circuitry.

Initially, the $21M USD repairs were expected to take a couple months at most.  This deadline was quickly pushed back in statements by CERN director Robert Aymar to April 2009 and then finally to the summer (June 2009).  Now the expected completion date for repairs has slid yet again. 

CERN spokesman James Gillies, surely beleaguered by having to bear all the bad news of late, broke the latest development on Friday.  He describes the new restart target date as "the late summer of 2009".

He described two plans for the LHC -- "Plan A" and "Plan B".  "Plan A" involves bringing the accelerator online in the late summer 2009, with lower power firings.  This plan would attempt to restore operation as early as possible, but at the cost of full functionality.  If you think "Plan A" sounds unattractive, try "Plan B"; "Plan B" would put the LHC out of commission until 2010 at the earliest.

"Plan B" would entail waiting until the LHC's pressure-relief system, the system of the accelerator that suffered from electrical failure, was totally replaced by an upgraded design.

For now, says Mr. Gillies, CERN will pursue "Plan A".  He states, "The priority is to get collision data from the experiment.  The LHC will run next year."

Under the current plan, only the three currently warmed segments of the eight total loop segments will be outfitted with the "fixed" pressure design.  Upgraded pressure-release valves will be installed in the cryostats on the dipole magnets for each of these three sections.  The remaining segments will not be warmed and will only receive the fix once they are warmed for other routine maintenance, sometime in the future.

The LHC design was supposed to produce an extremely powerful 7 tera electron-volts (TeV) beam, however it will be limited to 5 TeV or less, thanks to the problems.  Says Mr. Gillies, "The five undamaged sections can run at 5 TeV, and the rest of the machine can run at 4 TeV.  The highest we're hoping to run next year will be lower than 7 TeV."  

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Still a good record
By djc208 on 12/1/2008 10:47:21 AM , Rating: 4
I love how everyone seems to think this whole thing is a huge mess. One of the largest and most complex machines ever built is having problems, big surprise. The problem seems (to me) to be that no one planned for issues. Isn't stuff like this the reason they were running these tests? Sure you don't want to have them but it shouldn't be a surprise that they exist.

We release hardware and software every day that will spend the rest of it's life being patched and repaired. Why should anyone be surprised something many times more complex is any different?

RE: Still a good record
By karlostomy on 12/1/2008 10:55:47 AM , Rating: 2
yes. I conjecture that in years to come we will see this delay as a small cost of great discoveries.

Inevitably, those discoveries will take many more critiqued years before application, but those same applications will prove beneficial for generations of ignorant beneficiaries.

RE: Still a good record
By SpaceJumper on 12/1/2008 2:10:34 PM , Rating: 3
We will discover reality...that... we are just a bunch of data in a three dimensional memory chip. The memory chip is the dark matter as we know it.

RE: Still a good record
By ChronoReverse on 12/1/2008 6:08:09 PM , Rating: 4
I prefer this explanation:

RE: Still a good record
By Ryanman on 12/1/2008 11:02:04 AM , Rating: 2
It's the length of time. Everyone understands how complex it is, that things will go wrong. But 2 years? Humanity doesn't have the patience : )

RE: Still a good record
By chris2618 on 12/1/2008 11:17:48 AM , Rating: 2
I think the biggest problem they have with repairs is having to warm up the sectors and cool them down again.

secondly how did you get to two years. In plan b it will be the beginning 2010 so at most i think a bit longer than 1 year

RE: Still a good record
By Griswold on 12/1/2008 11:32:13 AM , Rating: 3
I highly doubt that those who are now moaning have the slightest idea of how complex LHC is, what it is used for and what the benefits will be. I, for one, do not care about these folks.

RE: Still a good record
By GeorgeH on 12/1/2008 3:31:13 PM , Rating: 3
And we're the poorer for it. Da Vinci spent over 10 years on the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo about 3 making a simple marble statue we call David; some things are worth waiting for.

I’m as impatient as anyone for results from the LHC; if it takes another year of waiting, though, it’ll still be more than worth it. And let’s not forget that analysis of the data produced will likely take years (if not decades) of debate to iron out anyway.

RE: Still a good record
By GeorgeH on 12/1/2008 3:32:46 PM , Rating: 2
(Poorer for the impatience.)

RE: Still a good record
By Griswold on 12/1/2008 11:33:32 AM , Rating: 3
There will always be numbnuts using silly words like "mess" when reporting about the largest experiment ever conducted by man. Forget them.

RE: Still a good record
By whiskerwill on 12/1/2008 11:38:50 AM , Rating: 4
Say what you want, but when one single bad weld shuts a multi-billion dollar project down for over a year, that's a MESS.

RE: Still a good record
By Clauzii on 12/1/2008 2:25:09 PM , Rating: 4
Reminds of a rubber O-ring that made a mess too. Simple things can make the greatest havoc.

RE: Still a good record
By IcePickFreak on 12/1/2008 5:35:34 PM , Rating: 2
But there's no sense crying over every mistake,
you just keep on trying till you run out of cake.

RE: Still a good record
By MVSuero on 12/1/2008 4:03:20 PM , Rating: 2
The Hubble Space Telescope was in a much worse situation when it first launched. It was completely useless due to the main lense being incorrectly manufactured. And oh yeah, it was in friggin OUTER SPACE! Yet one maintenance mission later and it gave us a bonanza of information that has completely changed our understanding of the universe. The LHC will do the same, just give it time.

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan
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