March 25, 2015

LHC short circuits; researchers conCERNed

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - @ParkstBrett

Scientists at CERN have been gearing the Large Hadron Collider up for its first active run in two years, but starting up the massive particle physics system will be put on hold for a bit after a short circuit was detected in a powerful electromagnet.

Spotted on Saturday, the short circuit will delay initial runs that were set to begin this week. The entire system must be operating properly before scientists can begin firing photons around its nearly 17-mile circular track.


1) New magnets 2) Stronger connections 3) Safer magnets 4) Higher energy beams 5) Narrower beams 6) Smaller but closer proton packets 7) Higher voltage 8) Superior cryogenics 9) Radiation-resistant electronics 10) More secure vacuum. (© 2015 CERN)

The LHC’s electromagnets must be cooled to around absolute zero in order to work and the CERN team said the short circuit is a “well understood issue,” but added that fixing it could take a considerable amount of time.

“Any cryogenic machine is a time amplifier,” said Frédérick Bordry, CERN’s director of accelerators, “so what would have taken hours in a warm machine could end up taking us weeks.”

Just a blink of the eye

In a statement, CERN said a complete assessment is currently taking place and an announcement will be made once a timetable for repairs is known.

The LHC is poised to operate at much higher speeds than the previous run, which ended two years ago. CERN scientists have said that they expect to find out even more and possible “break” the rules of particle physics this time around.

[STORY: Researchers looking to 'break physics' with LHC Run Two]

“All the signs are good for a great run 2,” said Rolf Heuer, CERN’s director general “In the grand scheme of things, a few weeks delay in humankind’s quest to understand our universe is little more than the blink of an eye.”

Frantically coding

Jonathan Butterworth, a particle physicist from University College London who works on the LHC’s Atlas experiments, recently told BBC News that all teams were ready to go and waiting to hear updates from engineers.

"It's a very separate organization, basically," Butterworth said about the engineering teams. "The accelerator guys are all within CERN - and we're sort of ready and waiting. We do what they tell us at this stage."

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Butterworth added that the teams are not just sitting idly by and waiting for the short circuit to get fixed. While repairs are taking place, the scientists will be refining and updating their models and calculations in preparation for an eventual run.

"Every day, we have people frantically coding stuff up to be even more ready," he said.


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