Friday, 28th August, 2009

The Large Hadron Collider Rides Again

large hadron colliderThe Large Hadron Collider, based at Cern, near Geneva, is a huge machine for investigating the deep structure of matter. It’s designed to accelerate beams of heavy particles (protons in this case) round a ring, in two opposite directions, and then to smash them into each other at the tiniest touch off the speed of light.

In September 2008, cooling systems for some of the Collider’s superconducting magnets failed, and their temperature rose, leading to a  loss of the magnetic field which is essential for controlling the colliding beams of particles.

This may not sound spectacular, but the CERN fire brigade were called out after a tonne of liquid helium coolant had leaked into the main tunnel (and it takes a lot of helium to make a tonne).

The good news is that repairs and checks are now coming to an end, and the collider is due to being tentative operations at low energies in November of this year. There will follow a gradual build up of the beam energy over the year 2010. Patience is a virtue.

Will we learn some of the deep secrets of matter and energy, or will the world be annihilated instead? Follow this column to find out (or not, in the latter case).

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