Big Bang machine set for return to work

Scientists look to restart hard luck Large Hadron Collider for 2-year run at half power

Operators of the world's largest particle collider, which was hit with a string of bad luck after it was first put into service in 2008, hope it can remain in service for the next 18 to 24 months to conduct multiple experiments.

In a blog post, Steve Myers, director for Accelerators and Technology at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which operates the Large Hadron Collider said the system will be run at half-speed during the period which is set to begin later this month.

He explained that the collider would have required significant work -- and additional time -- to be prepared to run at full speed.

Technical problems forced CERN to shut down the collider for a year before it returned to service last November. At that point, scientist conducted a brief test and found that its repair effort had been successful. At that point, the machine was shut off to allow scientists to prepare for the next stretch of experiments.

When working in the past, the collider was operated, at most, for a week or two at a time. CERN hopes that the system has a better chance to avoid technical issues by operating at half power, which they expect will reduce stress on the machine.

The 18-month to 24-month plan "is the right decision for the [collider] and for the experiments," wrote Myers. He said the long half-speed operation will give engineers time to prepare to increase power after the 24-month period ends. He said that the experiments run in half-speed should "bring enough data across all the potential discovery areas to firmly establish the [collider] as the world's foremost facility for high-energy particle physics."

The collider, which first came online in September, 2008, has struggled through multiple technical problem and corresponding bad publicity, which clearly staggered its momentum.

Shortly after the collider's first test, a faulty electrical connection knocked it offline. The machine was first expected to be out of service for six months, but the repairs eventually continued for a year. The price tag for the Large Hadron Collider repairs ultimately hit $21 million.

Once the collider came back online in November, it conducted a test that accelerated its twin beams of protons to an energy of 1.18 teraelectronvolts (TeV), making it the world's most powerful matter-rending machine.

The collider, which some expets have called "one of the great engineering milestones of mankind," was built to explore the Big Bang theory, which holds that more than 13 billion years ago, an amazingly dense object the size of a coin expanded into the universe that we know now.

The Large Hadron Collider, which had been under construction since the late 1980s, is designed to shoot beams of protons around a 17-mile, vacuum-sealed loop. Eventually, scientists want to accelerate two particle beams toward each other at 99.9% of the speed of light.

Smashing the beams together will create showers of new particles that should re-create conditions in the universe just moments after its conception. By using this machine and simulating the moments after the Big Bang, scientists from around the world are hoping to find answers to a question that has haunted mankind for centuries: How was the universe created?

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon