August 4, 2009

Electric setbacks plague particle collider

The world's largest particle accelerator, featured in Angels & Demons making antimatter, is riddled with electrical problems, European officials concede.

As a result, it may be years before the $9 billion Large Hadron Collider, located in suburban Geneva, Switzerland, produces groundbreaking science, officials acknowledge.

This science is includes identifying the dark matter that astronomers say makes up 25 percent of the cosmos and exploring the existence of dimensions beyond the three of space and one of time that characterize life as we know it, officials say.

Scientists and engineers at the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, have nearly finished examining 10,000 failed electrical interconnections and are to announce this week when the atom smasher will start running this winter.

Once it works, it will still take a month for the accelerator -- in a 17-mile circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border -- to start producing subatomic particle collisions, officials say.

But it could be years, if ever, before the collider runs at full strength, scientists tell The New York Times.

A number of scientists have left the collider for the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, a U.S. Department of Energy lab in Batavia, Ill., near Chicago, where the rival Tevatron accelerator has been smashing together protons and antiprotons for the last decade, the Times said.

The novel and film Angels & Demons involves antimatter created at the European collider to be used in a weapon against the Vatican. The movie was filmed onsite.

The World Wide Web began as a CERN project called ENQUIRE, initiated by English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 and Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau in 1990.