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Temporary collider shutdown a “blow”

Sept. 24, 2008
Courtesy CERN
and World Science staff

A gi­ant par­t­i­cle col­lider whose launch this month sci­en­tists hailed as his­tor­ic must shut down un­til spring, a “psy­cho­log­i­cal blow” to proj­ect par­ti­ci­pants, said the head of the re­search cen­ter op­er­at­ing the ma­chine.

The Large Had­ron Col­lider, a new par­ticle ac­celer­ator in­stalled in a cir­cu­lar un­der­ground tun­nel mea­sur­ing 27 km (17 miles) ar­ound. It strad­dles the Swiss and French bor­ders on the out­skirts of Gene­va. (Courtesy CERN)


The Large Had­ron Col­lider, the most pow­er­ful par­t­i­cle-smash­er on Earth, is sup­posed to probe cos­mic se­crets in­clud­ing what cre­ates mass and what a mys­te­ri­ous “dark mat­ter” might be.

The shut­down “is un­doubtedly a psy­cho­log­i­cal blow,” said Rob­ert Ay­mar, Di­rec­tor Gen­er­al of CERN, the Eu­ro­pe­an Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Nu­clear Re­search near Ge­ne­va, on Tues­day. “I have no doubt that we will over­come this set­back.”

The prob­lem was due to a large he­li­um leak in­to an ar­ea of the col­lider tun­nel, probably caused by a faulty elec­tri­cal con­nec­tion be­tween two mag­nets, CERN of­fi­cials said. 

But be­fore the in­ci­dent can be fully un­der­stood, they added, the rel­e­vant sec­tion of the tun­nel must to be brought to room tem­per­a­ture and the mag­nets opened up for in­spec­tion. This will take three to four weeks, of­fi­cials said.

The time nec­es­sary for the in­ves­ti­ga­t­ion and re­pairs pre­cludes a re­start be­fore CERN’s ob­lig­a­to­ry win­ter main­te­nance per­i­od, push­ing the date for re­launch of the ac­cel­er­a­tor com­plex to early next spring, the of­fi­cials added.

It’s “a very com­plex in­stru­ment, huge in scale and push­ing tech­no­log­i­cal lim­its in many ar­e­as,” said Pe­ter Li­mon, who was re­spon­si­ble for com­mis­sion­ing the world’s first large-scale su­per­con­duct­ing ac­cel­er­a­tor, the Teva­tron at Fer­mi­lab in the Un­ited States. “Events oc­cur from time to time that tem­po­rarily stop opera­t­ions, for shorter or long­er per­i­ods, es­pe­cially dur­ing the early phas­es.”


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A giant particle collider whose launch this month scientists hailed as historic must shut down until spring, a “psychological blow” to project participants, said the director-general of the research center operating the machine. The Large Hadron Collider, the biggest particle-smasher on Earth, is supposed to investigate secrets of the universe including what creates mass and what a mysterious “dark matter” pervading the cosmos might be. The shutdown “is undoubtedly a psychological blow,” said Robert Aymar, Director General of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva. “I have no doubt that we will overcome this setback.” The problem was due to a large helium leak into an area of the collider tunnel, probably caused by a faulty electrical connection between two magnets, CERN officials said. But before the incident can be full understood, they added, the relevant section of the tunnel must to be brought to room temperature and the magnets opened up for inspection. This will take three to four weeks, officials said. The time necessary for the investigation and repairs precludes a restart before CERN’s obligatory winter maintenance period, bringing the date for restart of the accelerator complex to early next spring, the officials added. It’s “a very complex instrument, huge in scale and pushing technological limits in many areas,” said Peter Limon, who was responsible for commissioning the world’s first large-scale superconducting accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab in the United States. “Events occur from time to time that temporarily stop operations, for shorter or longer periods, especially during the early phases.”