January 5, 2009

Large Hadron Collider Undergoing Repairs

Scientists say the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be back online soon in order to conduct a controversial experiment to recreate conditions just after the Big Bang.

In September, the multibillion-dollar project in Geneva shut down after two of its magnets malfunctioned.

The LHC is currently undergoing more than $20 million in repairs as well as a new protection system to avoid further problems when it is restarted this summer.

"There's still a lot of work to do," project director Dr. Lyn Evans told BBC News.

"But we now have the roadmap, the time and the competence necessary to be ready for physics by summer," he said.

He said the project is currently in a scheduled annual shutdown until May, and they're hopeful that not too much time will be lost.

Investigators said the initial malfunction was caused by a faulty electrical connection between two of the accelerator's magnets. As a result, 53 magnet units will have to be removed from the LHC's tunnel to be cleaned or repaired, according to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

The final magnet will be reinstalled by the end of March, with the LHC ready for tests in June.

Evans said he was optimistic the experiment would be carried out successfully.

"I think we have done not only investigating the cause of the incident but making sure it can never happen again and I think that's an essential thing," said Evans, who is from Aberdare, Cynon Valley.

He is now confident the team has developed a means to be able to spot such things before they create any damage, so "when the machine comes back up again it will come on safely and it will have a long and productive life."

He said, however, there was never any risk of the LHC malfunction injuring people.

Evans, like many others in the field, believes the experiment would be worth it in order to try to answer some of the "profound questions" in science.

"There're whole questions about the dark matter and dark energy in the Universe, for instance; that we now know we can only see 4% of our Universe - 96% we don't know what it is," he said.

"Of course, coming along with the fundamental questions is pushing the frontiers of technology and knowledge."

The collider works by smashing protons together at great speeds, recreating conditions moments after the Big Bang.

The malfunction happened just nine days after the LHC was switched on in September.


Image 1: LHC magnet: superconducting quadrupole magnet. (Courtesy of CERN)

Image 2: An aerial view of the Geneva region, showing the position of the LHC tunnel (Copyright CERN)


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