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Bad Math Causes Explosion at CERN Collider 270

javipas writes "The Large Hadron Collider at the CERN has suffered a big explosion deep inside that has caused a leak of hellium gas and the quick evacuation of everyone working there. The reason: a mathematical mistake that affected the design of the giant superconductive magnets made by Fermilab. Now the company will have to repair and upgrade the 24 magnets that are installed on the 27 km. circunference of one of the most important research centers on Earth." This story might seem strangely familiar to you.
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Bad Math Causes Explosion at CERN Collider

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  • by your_mother_sews_soc ( 528221 ) on Monday April 09, 2007 @09:19AM (#18661979)
    Talk about missed opportunities. I just listened to an NPR story at around 8:20 eastern time (US) about particle physics and the super collider. They mentioned how a particle zooming around in it would have the force of a bus, and colliding two particles would be an enormous crash. They talked about how particle physics has stagnated for the past few decades, about how the collider was built, and oddly enough, about what a breach of the coil would do. But no mention of an "accident." Hmmm. I guess I need to mail my pledge check.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday April 09, 2007 @09:52AM (#18662285) Homepage Journal
    I'll make it simple: whatever the standard theory says, root for it to be wrong as wrong can be, and for the entire theoretical physics community to go on a rampage, ripping out and replacing things we've long held to so certain they were hardly worth questioning.

    It's bound to be more fun that way.

    Of course governments will be freaked that they spent so much money to prove something and failed to do it, but that entirely misses the point. What makes trying to prove our basic assumptions about the universe worthwhile is the small possibility that they're wrong in some fundamental and important way. I for one look forward to the day when some big shot physicists hold a press conference and announce, "You know what we've been telling all along about [perpetual motion/faster than light travel/anti-gravity/time travel]? Well, it turns out not to be entirely, precisely true." How cool would that be?

    It'll be a big ho-hum if they announce that they've found the Higgs Boson exactly the way they expected with exactly the observations they predicted.
  • Re:suffocation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) * <> on Monday April 09, 2007 @09:55AM (#18662337) Homepage Journal
    LOX saturating some organic materials can create an explosive. Asphalt is one such material, although you need some percussion to get it going. Just lighting it up won't make it go bang. I wonder if you had some LOX and a 55 gallon drum of leftover pizza grease, and hit it with a blasting cap, could you make it go bang?

    Homeland Security is looking at regulating pizza drivers now.
  • by lexarius ( 560925 ) on Monday April 09, 2007 @09:55AM (#18662339)
    I wonder if any of them ended up on Another World []?
  • by Temkin ( 112574 ) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:33AM (#18662793)

    When physicists screw up, they certainly do it spectacularly. Though I don't think this quite rises to the level of the Castle Bravo "oops" [] :-)
  • Re:suffocation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Frohboy ( 78614 ) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:06AM (#18663213)

    It's been reported in vent failures when a magnet quenched that it rained oxygen; liquid helium is substantially colder than liquid oxygen.

    On a somewhat lighter note (since no one was hurt), an MR tech colleague of mine recounted the story (which I may be mangling a bit) of an intentional quench of an MRI at the facility where she worked previously. (I believe the magnet was either being decommissioned, or at least being moved to a different building -- regardless, they needed to release the helium).

    Apparently, they put out an announcement that morning (and earlier in the week), notifying everyone at the facility that the quench would be occurring at some specified time, and not to be alarmed. One of the senior researchers had been away at a conference for a few days, and arrived just as the quench was occurring. As they opened the vents to the roof and released the liquid helium, the suddenly-expanding cold gas shot up in column for a bit, condensing moisture in the air around it, before expanding out, and forming a wider ball.

    Needless to say, this researcher was quite shocked to get back to work in time to see a mushroom cloud over the building. :)
  • by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:35AM (#18663695)
    So what science is going to get canned to pay for this fix?

    This reminds me of the accident at the Princeton TFTR when it was being installed. The fusion reactor used huge flywheels to store sufficient power to operate the tokamak (without pulling down the electric grid). During installation, a contractor dropped one of the flywheels from an overhead crane.

    To fix the flywheel, congress cancelled almost every other fusion research project in the country. This was when, for example, the EFBT project at NASA was cancelled - despite having results as or more promising than tokamak research.

    (My plasma sciences professor at college had previously led the EFBT project; the story is repeated from him.)

    I wonder what dozen other less-well-known research projects are going to get canned to fix this high-profile mistake, and what breakthroughs we'll lose because of it.
  • Re:suffocation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dr_Mic ( 975409 ) <{mrg3} {at} {}> on Monday April 09, 2007 @12:02PM (#18664085) Homepage
    It's not that the Helium in and of itself is dangerous (it is an inert gas, after all) but rather that it isn't oxygen. Inhaling the helium from a helium balloon will make you light headed (lack of oxygen) but the real danger is if you keep breathing helium w/out oxygen, you don't realize you're suffocating because the carbon dioxide is still being cleared from you lungs and its the CO2 that triggers the sensation of suffocation.
  • Re:Units? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TopherC ( 412335 ) on Monday April 09, 2007 @12:38PM (#18664655)
    Unfortunately, the US also has "egg on their face" from other goings-on in particle physics. Another fairly recent disaster was the cancellation of BTeV []. This was most unfortunate because European collaborators were completely disenfranchised. By not having a system in place that can effectively fund a multi-year research project, we've lost valuable collaborators and lost international credibility. In addition to this, we've lost enormous amounts of funding for particle physics over the past decade, and as of now there are no major new experiments being built in the US, and everything that's running will pretty much shut down by 2008 (Fermilab, SLAC, Brookhaven, CESR/CLEO). All Fermilab has going for it after 2008 is that they can build magnets, and now with these issues maybe even that is suspect. As particle physics tends to thrive only on relatively large experiments that take well over a decade to go from proposal to construction and finally operation, it's hard to imagine that basic science in the US will even be relevant any more to the worldwide community for at least the next few decades, if ever again. What's just as frustrating as this was the complete lack of media coverage as the US accomplished its "exit strategy" in particle physics, beginning in about 1993 and ending just about now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 09, 2007 @03:16PM (#18666763)
    Some of us who were born before the Internet remember that about 10 years ago a guy named George Goble posted a video of himself pouring LOX on lit charcoal.

    Some of us born even earlier than you did a double take on this thread, because we couldn't figure out why George Gobel [], the guy who asked Johnny Carson, after following Bob Hope and Dean Martin on The Tonight Show, "Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?" would pull a stunt like that, let alone have a license plate that said "UNIX"

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.