March 1, 2010

Scientists Restart World’s Most Powerful Atom Smasher

In a bid to discover the secrets of the universe, scientists have restarted the world's most powerful atom smasher, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) said on Sunday.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 16.8 mile underground tunnel located on the French-Swiss border near Geneva, produced its first beam of 2010 at 4:10 CET (0310 GMT). "The LHC is on its way again," said CERN in a tweet on its website.

The 5.6 billion dollar LHC was shut down in December to get it ready for the new project. In the weeks before the shutdown, the collider achieved over a million particle collisions and accelerated proton beams to unfathomable energy levels, according to CERN.

The scientists were able to produce a world record energy level of 2.36 teraelectronvolts (TeV). But they are now hoping to reach 7.0 TeV to try to recreate conditions around the time of the Big Bang, and run those levels for up to 24 months. Eventually, CERN wants to be able to reach 14 TeV, but only after another long shutdown scheduled for late 2011.

CERN spent $40 million to repair and improve the LHC over 14 months before it made a successful 4 week run in November and December of last year. The latest shutdown was used to improve electrical connections and other parts of the machine. Preliminary testing of the machine is being done to ready it for operation at higher levels.

After the current vigilant restart, CERN will increase the energy output little by little, reaching levels 3.5 times greater than the levels reached in Chicago. After modifications are completed, scientists will try for 7 TeV. But for the foreseeable future -- the next 18 - 24 months -- they intend to keep it at 3.5 TeV.

"There's a long way to go between getting the first bunches of protons to go around and actually getting the machine to its top working levels," a spokesman for CERN said. "It's a lot like having designed a Formula One racing car. The first time you send it out, the guy doesn't go round the circuit as fast as he can. You have to learn about the controls, how the car handles." 


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