Keystone, Martial Trezzini/AP
A portion of the Large Hadron Collider

Super Collider Running Again After Glitch

September 19, 2008 02:41 PM
by Denis Cummings
The Large Hadron Collider had to be shut down last week when a transformer malfunctioned, but the problem has been solved and scientists resumed shooting beams Friday.

Collider Malfunctioned

The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, was launched on the morning of September 10. The launch of the LHC, a machine that took $10 billion and two decades to build, attracted a great deal of media attention—including a rap video on YouTube—and was covered live on BBC Radio 4.

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) turned on the machine and shot protons through the 17-mile tube. They expected there would be trial collisions this week, but within hours of its launch, a 30-ton transformer that cooled a part of the collider malfunctioned.

“This is arguably the largest machine built by humankind, it is incredibly complex, and involved components of varying ages and origins, so I’m not at all surprised to hear of some glitches,” said Steve Giddings, physics professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The collider had to be shut down while the transformer was replaced and the collider was cooled down again to 2 Kelvin. The team at CERN resumed firing beam of protons on Friday and they expect there to be low-level collisions by next week.

Background: The Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider was designed to simulate the universe milliseconds after the Big Bang. Scientists hope that they will be able to determine, what the early universe was made of, why matter overcame antimatter and where dark matter exists. They are also looking to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, which explains why particles have mass.

The LHC is an underground complex made up of several large cathedral-sized buildings housing high-powered magnets. The magnets, which will be cooled to within two degrees Kelvin of absolute zero, shoot protons at 99.99-percent of the speed of light through a 17-mile circular tunnel lined with computers that will detect and analyze each particle collision.

There are several structures built along the tunnel that perform specific calculations, the most significant of which are A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE), A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS (ATLAS) and Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS). ALICE will examine the quark–gluon plasma that existed after the Big Bang, while ATLAS and CMS will try to detect dark matter, extra dimensions and the Higgs boson.

Opinion & Analysis: What will scientists find?

There are many long-standing questions of particle physics that scientists at CERN hope to answer with the LHC, including those dealing with antimatter, extra dimensions and black holes.

The most-anticipated possible discovery is the Higgs boson, a theoretical particle that explains how mass is formed. The so-called “God Particle” was first theorized more than 40 years ago and is considered the missing link of the Standard Model.

Dr. Stephen Hawking has doubts that the LHC will detect the Higgs—he’s made a $100 bet on it—but he does believe that the collider is “vital if the human race is not to stultify, and eventually die out.” He anticipates that it can discover “supersymmetric partners” to known particles, which “would be a key confirmation of string theory, and … could make up the mysterious dark matter that holds galaxies together.”

Though scientists have different opinions on what the LHC will find, they agree that there will be major discoveries made. “More than anything, we have a good sense that we have to see something,” says Perimeter Institute physicist Cliff Burgess. “It's not like we're looking and hoping to see something; seeing nothing is really not an option.”

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