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LHC Shut Down By Transformer Malfunction 293

Ortega-Starfire writes "A 30-ton transformer in the Large Hadron Collider malfunctioned, requiring complete replacement on the day the LHC came online. No one at CERN reported any problems, and they only released this data once the Associated Press sent people to investigate rumors of problems. I guess it's hard to just sweep a 30-ton transformer breaking under the rug."
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LHC Shut Down By Transformer Malfunction

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  • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @08:54PM (#25064707) Journal
    More than meets the eye! I guess the Decepticons don't want us to advance our knowledge!
  • by hemp ( 36945 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @08:54PM (#25064709) Homepage Journal

    I bet it was Omegatron!

  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @08:57PM (#25064737) Journal
    I TOLD YOU! Why wouldn't anyone listen? See what happens when the LHC opened a warp hole to Cybertron? Now they'll come back for vengeance, and they won't care if they're autobot or decepticon, for this dispicable act. They'll know that I stood against the LHC, and they'll ensure that I have a place in rounding up you for work in their salt mines. I for one welcome our robotic overlords.
  • GORDON! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kingrames ( 858416 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @08:59PM (#25064759)
    Gordon, what have you done?!?!?!
  • by hairykrishna ( 740240 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:00PM (#25064777)
    The summary reads like it's some kind of attempted cover up. Maybe it's because they thought that an equipment failure wasn't exactly news? The little accelerator I use has been down for a week because of a borked turbo pump. Should I phone Reuters?

    It's a big, complicated machine - shit breaks. It gets fixed. I wouldn't worry about it unless you're waiting for beam time.

    • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:02PM (#25064805) Journal
      I appreciate the fact that they have set up some live web cams [cyriak.co.uk] so you can see what's going on at the facility.
      • That's just GOLD!
      • by Bananenrepublik ( 49759 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @04:20AM (#25068213)
        The webcam is a great source of information on CMS :), but if you want to know the status of the LHC, check the following links:
        The current status of the beam can always be viewed here [web.cern.ch]
        All other status informations are linked from here [web.cern.ch]
        So maybe they didn't make a press release, but perhaps journalists should be smart enough to find these pages instead of claiming conspiracies?
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:54AM (#25068939)

          The current status of the beam can always be viewed here [web.cern.ch]

          Which currently says "We just had a major quench in sector 34. More news as we get it"

          IIRC a quench (loss of superconductivity because of the magnetic fields) is likely to cause extra damage, so this sounds a lot more important than a simple transformer failure. Plus therer might be design issues that caused it.

          Good luck to the LHC team. I guess this is how a real beta goes

    • by BobMcD ( 601576 )

      Um, wow. Where do I start?

      A) This isn't just some ordinary big, complicated machine. That should be obvious. For example, there was a huge hurrah when it launched.

      B) It has been down longer than it was up. By a factor of what, 3? In fact, it took them longer to draft a press release than the thing was up. It probably took longer to coordinate the big fanfare mentioned above than it was up. This is noteworthy.

      C) Isn't this the controversial machine that may or may not destroy the planet itself? Do

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You've clearly never participated in any big launch of a technology. Heck, if software project first demos went as well as the LHC's, developers would be ecstasic.

      • In short, I don't really think this has much in common with your 'little accelerator' at all.

        ... actually, if you have 'little' problems with a 'little' accelerator, why would you expect 'little' to 'none' problems with a BIG accelerator?

        Besides, if it was a big deal, they would have made it a big deal. As it stands, it is only being fixed because it could become a PR headache - not because it is a big deal.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 18, 2008 @10:02PM (#25065389)

        a) Yes, it is a big complicated machine, things will break, this device barely impacted the overall schedule at all. People have been working on this project for about 2 decades. A week or two isn't in the least bit significant.

        b) If this had happened say, 5 years from now, this point would be as irrelevant as it is now. And as noteworthy.

        c) Cosmic rays interact in our atmosphere in the PeV range (Peta Electron Volt), the LHC smashes particles together in the 14 TeV (Tera Electron Volt). Sooo.... it operates at energy levels an order of magnitude less than what currently happens on Earth... I don't know about you, but I feel pretty safe about the whole thing.

        d) They did fix it pronto, and it does work. Little things break, I know where I work (a not so little accelerator) I didn't hear a PEEP about this incident and we have been directly and closely involved in the LHC.

        In short, I agree with hairykrishna, this isn't really news. Just another instance of the media trying to make a big deal out of something small.

      • by coldkryten ( 1244618 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @10:12PM (#25065483)

        Isn't this the controversial machine that may or may not destroy the planet itself?

        Goddammit NO. It's the machine that will not destroy the planet, but some controversial people have done a damn good job of spreading rumors that it will. The point of the LHC is to re-create events that occur everywhere in the universe all the time, including here on earth. It's just not practical to put 50' diameter detectors hanging in the upper atmosphere and wait for a particle collision to happen inside of one.

      • A & B) thats why they are just testing it now, this isnt even going to affect the schedule they're on much.
        C) No there are some nut-jobs but, meh ( i mean somebodies got to vote for palin)
        D) Actually it was mainly paid for by a few governments. if your referring to the work scientists have put in, then Im sure they would rather this stuff came out in the testing & calibration than getting a bad dataset at the end

        I very much doubt his little accelerator is just for decoration, not all research is do

      • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @11:36PM (#25066309)

        I think the problem is that everyone who actually understands this big complicated machine also understands they break, especially when first built.

        This are one of a kind structures. Everyone who matters in the project or in the community that really knows how it works and what it does has probably dealt with previous ones ... which breaking or needing major changes early on isn't a shocker for them.

        To the guys who are working on it, it was probably just a question of what broke, not if it broke. We're not talking about creating a piston engine, which we've been doing for a hundred years, we're talking about new technology custom built for the project for the most part. The transformer probably wasn't, but they break too. I have a coworker whos husband worked for a large power company, helping to install substations, it wasn't suprising to him that it broke, appearently for large scale transformers its still hit or miss when they first start being used.

        If no one involved in the project is really 'shocked' that it broke, maybe it the thought that it should be a media frenzy never crossed their minds?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tenco ( 773732 )
      • by atraintocry ( 1183485 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @04:08AM (#25068153)
        The LHC? Destroy the planet? Turn in your geek card. We may or may not let you go on digg, following a probationary period where you may only post comments on youtube.
    • by ScreamingCactus ( 1230848 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:57PM (#25065347)

      They're not trying to cover up a broken transformer - they're trying to cover up the tiny black hole that formed in the transformers, and is growing exponentially.

      • They're not trying to cover up a broken transformer - they're trying to cover up the tiny black hole that formed in the transformers, and is growing exponentially.

        Not to worry, once this gets too big to contain, I can guarantee that no information about the disaster will ever get out.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by feyhunde ( 700477 )
      They didn't see anything, move along http://www.starslip.com/2008/09/12/so-thats-what-happened-to-the-ssc/ [starslip.com]
    • The summary also infers that the transformer somehow directly cools the LHC. While you can create a cooling via the Peltier effect, from what I have read they use super-fluid Helium in some sort of standard refrigeration cycle. I'm sure that for the type of cooling they need, they just didn't have the power via other means to run their reefers at full capacity.

      I agree, this is hardly news.

    • by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @12:03AM (#25066577)

      The summary authors don't seem to understand. Nobody at CERN reported the malfunction? I assume they mean "reported to the press" -- otherwise, how did they fix a 30-ton transistor without telling anyone.

      Anyway, things malfunction and break on particle accelerators constantly. They're devilishly difficult to maintain properly. (They operate in extreme fail-safe modes, so failures harmless but common.)

      • by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Friday September 19, 2008 @01:33AM (#25067283) Homepage Journal
        Well, most are. When I was working at the (then SERC) Daresbury Nuclear Structure Facility, we were basically sitting under a really big tank of SF6 (Sulpher Hexafluoride) which is not stuff you want to be breathing. It's not poisonous. It doesn't do much other than sit there and be really really inert, but that makes it a superb gas for accelerators. It also makes it hard to detect and really bad for oxygen-breathing lifeforms. But, yes, things would go wrong all the time with that, and it was a child's toy compared to the LHC - in terms of power (Darebury's tandem accelerator was a puny 20 MeV), technology, scale, rarity/availability of skills, innovativeness, etc. Not only did things go wrong, but it routinely arced. If you thought a Van De Graaf generator or a Tesla Coil was impressive, you've never seen an accelerator when the insulating gas fails. However, another thing to consider is the European attitude to emergencies. I got to see the operators of the facility during an SF6 leak. Those guys weren't casual by any means but they kept their cool better than most refrigerators. Working their way through the emergency drills methodically and and calmly. And that was a potentially life-threatening emergency. A mere transformer?! Pah. Bet the only ones who even flinched were the accountants. The main scientists weren't expecting to run experiments for a while yet, as it wasn't even considered as burned-in. If the news channels thought this was significant, they've clearly never visited a laboratory after high-school and skipped classes there.
    • by Shillo ( 64681 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @02:42AM (#25067703)

      They have day-to-day log of the activities at https://lhc-commissioning.web.cern.ch/lhc-commissioning/dailynews/index.htm [web.cern.ch] I didn't have any problems finding this logs at the LHC website.

      Transformer outage and cryogenics breakdown is logged on September 13. They were not 'rumors'.

  • by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:00PM (#25064783)
    yet. Now I have another chance to try all of those world ending pickup lines! Actually, I really should get religious. If I were religious, I could celebrate an end-of-the-world day every day!

    Can one of you physicists tell me how 4.5 Kelvin is different from 2 Kelvin, operationally?
    • by geekgirlandrea ( 1148779 ) <andrea+slashdot@persephoneslair.org> on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:09PM (#25064883) Homepage

      Can one of you physicists tell me how 4.5 Kelvin is different from 2 Kelvin, operationally?

      At 2 K, adding a given amount of energy makes the entropy of the system go up 2.25 times as much as it would at 4.5 K. :)

      • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @01:39AM (#25067339)
        The maximum magnetic field you can put on a superconductor depends on temperature. You can operate a superconducting magnet with a stronger magnetic field at 2 Kelven instead of 4.5 kelvin. Also, below 2.17 degrees kelvin, helium becomes super-fluid and has better heat conductivity - this is important in some applications. For alternating fields (like microwaves) superconductors are not perfectly superconducting, they have a bit if residual resistance. This resistance decreases as the temperature goes down.
    • by OneIfByLan ( 1341287 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:14PM (#25064913)


      • by MagicM ( 85041 )

        You posted that in the wrong thread. Let me help you.

        Just in case anyone else misread the headline, there's a vas deferens between the Large Hadron Collider and the Large Hardon Collider.


    • Thank God it wasn't a blackhole malfunction.

      Or rather, thank the God particle.

    • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:55PM (#25065331) Journal

      Well, I haven't the faintest idea how the damn thing is cooled, but helium becomes superfliud at 2.17K (iirc). It effectively loses all of its viscosity and becomes far more thermally conductive. At 2K its a superfluid, at 4.5K its not. Cool stuff, but I don't know if it matters, I don't know squat about the LHC. (see what you get for asking a question on /.?)

    • Can one of you physicists tell me how 4.5 Kelvin is different from 2 Kelvin, operationally?

      IANAP, but I'm sure that it makes a really big difference at a really small level.

      Hope that clears things up for you.

    • by Laguerre ( 1198383 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @10:27PM (#25065631)
      Can one of you physicists tell me how 4.5 Kelvin is different from 2 Kelvin, operationally?

      The magnets they use to shape and steer the beam require about 12,000 amps, so they use superconductors. Between 2K and 4.5K, the superconductor undergoes a phase change and becomes non-superconducting, and the resistance goes from zero to not zero all of a sudden. The 12,000 amps suddenly produces an incredible amount of heat (P=I^2R) which drastically increases the pressure from the liquid He. That much pressure means the He needs to escape (violently), causing all sorts of trouble. It's called a 'quench.'
      • +1 informative.
      • by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:37AM (#25068001)

        The used superconductors are good well above 4K (although with decreased maximum saturation).
        The main point is that they want their helium to be superfluidic, as otherwise it would be impossible to direct the heat over the many km needed (if their were bubble formation in the dewars).

        With superfluidic helium, heat resistance also drops nearly to zero(as we are in the real world, it cannot be zero. But heat conductivity increases by many magnitudes, and bubble formation is eliminated). That way, they can keep heat gradients along the whole ring well below 1K.

    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      Sure, at the field strength they are trying to push the NbTi magnets they lose superconductivity around 4.2K reference [iop.org]. That's a bad thing considering the amount of energy in the magnets!
  • by jcnnghm ( 538570 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:02PM (#25064793)

    It would be hard to sweep a 30-ton transformer under a rug, unless there is a black hole under said rug.

    • by Alwin Henseler ( 640539 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:31PM (#25065097)

      True, but if they're real scientists they'd figure out it's easier to sweep the black hole under the 30-ton transformer. When done, cover up with rug.

    • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:35PM (#25065149) Journal

      I don't know how you do it. It never works for me.

        I could've sworn I left my favorite rug on top of the black hole in the living room the other day but, crazy as it sounds, it seems to have just disappeared. I'd swear on a stack of bibles that's where I left the dang thing and you know it didn't just grow legs and walk out of the house.

    • by darkonc ( 47285 )
      I was thinking that the problem wasn't sweeping te transformer under the rug, but rather smoothing the rug down once you're done. I think that the black hole solution might actually do the job (as long as you can keep the rug from being sucked in too).
    • I know you're joking, but I can just see someone taking you seriously.

      For reference, the black holes it may create will evaporate almost instantly and are so tiny they won't small much of anything before disappearing. Well... thats theory as I understand it anyway.

      And no, the joke didn't whoosh me, I got it :) I just can see many people whooshing :)

  • by mikiN ( 75494 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:02PM (#25064801)

    several to go.

    Well ALICE, let's see how deep the budget hole goes...

  • Everybody knows that GoBots [wikipedia.org] are better than Transformers.
  • Reminder (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:10PM (#25064893)

    Just in case anyone else misread the headline, there's a vas deferens between the Large Hadron Collider and the Large Hardon Collider.

  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:20PM (#25064957) Homepage

    ...and I didn't realize the standard measurement for transformers had been changed to tons. Must be a European measurement?

    I think kVA or MVA would be a better statistic.

    • Well that's great that you have that degree, but not everyone does. To people who aren't too familiar with that area of study or work, saying "30 tons" paints a much better picture in the reader's minds.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Caboosian ( 1096069 )
        Promoting ignorance: A cause we can all get behind!
        • by Kneo24 ( 688412 )

          Because obviously every person should spend every spare moment posting on slashdot, and learning everything there is to know about anything.

      • Agreed, telling people it is 30 tons lets them know it isn't as simple as changing a light bulb. Telling them that the transformer is rated for a certain electrical rating doesn't in anyway indicate that it is likely the size of a house.

    • ..he just assumed that something which might be involved with cooling must be rated in the amount of ice it can create in a day.

    • by tukkayoot ( 528280 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @10:02PM (#25065391) Homepage

      It's a fairly standard measurement for mass, though. Transformers have mass, so it's perfectly applicable, especially when you are trying to underscore the massiveness of the piece of equipment in question, rather than its functional capability. If the person writing the article/summary wanted to underscore the cost of the unit, he might have measured it in US dollars. That's what journalists do: describe things in terms their readers might understand or care about. And most of their readers aren't pedantic electrical engineers.

  • The System Works (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:24PM (#25065005)

    They knew this was a hazard going in (temp rising), they talked about the possibility before the first trials and they successfully designed systems to shutdown before causing damage. This is just part of the sea trials of the particle pirate's new ship.

  • by sleeponthemic ( 1253494 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:25PM (#25065015) Homepage
    What with, you know, most of the world's population thinking that day was the critical "black-hole" day.

    Whilst I'm sure that is beneficial for CERN in the context that most people will be completely unaware on the day that full speed collisions are truly started, I do not for one moment think the media had that intention. A publicised failure would only serve to increase people's prejudice.
  • by bornwaysouth ( 1138751 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:25PM (#25065019) Homepage
    The transformer failure is just one of those things. But, according to the article..

    After it was started up Sept. 10, scientists circled a beam of protons in a clockwise direction at the speed of light. They shut that down, then turned on a counterclockwise beam.

    Now, accelerating a proton to the speed of light seems to me impossible, given that they are in a vacuum. But if they can do that, then the other interpretation is possible. It was the scientists who were circling at the speed of light, round say, a little beaker of protons. I'd like to commend whoever shut them down, then anti-beamed them to restore reality.

  • Not News and News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:30PM (#25065085) Journal

    If you read TFA, you discover that it, but not the provided summary on /., says it was news to nobody in the field that something broke. What's not said here, but said in TFA and far more worthy of mention, is that they replaced it and were running again the next day, well before AP even inquired. Falling prey to the cheap journalistic gimmick of awfulism, are we?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      But without sensationalism and misrepresentation, what would we have to wring our hands over???

      You want some really interesting discussion, hunt down gorilla199's youtube account. "Satan's stargate"... now THAT's entertainm...I mean information. ROFL...

  • Who put Homer Simpson in the power control room?

  • by EjectButton ( 618561 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @09:56PM (#25065343)
    For those who only read the "summary" (I use this term loosely) and aren't familiar with the LHC you may be surprised to learn that:
    this is not a major failure
    there is no sinister cover-up
    no one was ever in any danger

    Thanks for some more fear-mongering doomsday garbage "news" Slashdot. The purpose of editors, at least for non-tabloid news sources, is to filter factually inaccurate and inflammatory nonsense, not seek it out.
  • by Digitus1337 ( 671442 ) <lk_digitus AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday September 18, 2008 @10:05PM (#25065421) Homepage
    Being able to MacGyver that thing at all without a DHD is impressive, let's not be so hard on them.
  • Copper is getting expensive enough these days without a 30 ton xformer blowing every time they turn that beast on. ;-/


  • I can't remember the details, but didn't Fermilab or some outfit on this side of the pond screw up when they produced one or two of the large magnets needed for the LHC about a year back? Wikipedia to the rescue, it was Fermilab and KEK[1] [wikipedia.org] More details here [fnal.gov]

    Not to knock too hard on Fermilab, they do a lot of great work, it's just too funny that they screwed up on an important part for a rival's project. Uh, yeah, we, uh, can't believe we did that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by afidel ( 530433 )
      Fermi has built or been involved in the design of the magnets for basically ALL of the large colliders worldwide. LEP, LHC, SSC, RHIC, Tevatron (obviously), etc all had significant contributions by Fermi. The fact that every design review missed it was simply amazing. Luckily they were able to come up with a way to fix the surviving magnets and fairly quickly built replacements for the destroyed units.
  • Overhead transformers to one-oh-five percent...

    It's probably nothing... probably... but I'm seeing a small discrepancy in the readings...

  • i know michael bay is trying to get some good pr for transformers 2 next year, but there was no need to a stage a mock decepticon attack on a real human technological installation

    why couldn't you leave the transformer devastation on the movie screen mr. bay? do you really think this will make people want to watch your movie?

  • It's Cosmic Censorship [wikipedia.org], man! A super intelligence from the future has come back to ensure the Large Hadron Collider can't create a naked singularity. OMG Xeelee!

  • Time travel (Score:5, Informative)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday September 18, 2008 @11:56PM (#25066505) Homepage

    "A 30-ton transformer in the Large Hadron Collider malfunctioned, requiring complete replacement on the day the LHC came online."

    This news must have traveled in time - because the LHC doesn't come online until sometime next summer. Right now, its in the middle stages of a months long startup and calibration sequence.

    Not to mention that stuff breaks during the startup of complex machinery, doubly so for one of a kind complex machinery.

  • by jibjibjib ( 889679 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @07:41AM (#25069199) Journal
    The transformer malfunction was inevitable, due to the anthropic principle. In every possible universe in which the transformer didn't malfunction, the LHC destroyed the world and we couldn't observe that it didn't malfunction. :p
  • by Guysmiley777 ( 880063 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @10:04AM (#25070657)
    Conversation on the phone went something like this:

    LHC: Uh...had a slight transformer malfunction. But, uh, everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?

    AP: We're sending a squad up.

    LHC: Uh, uh, negative. We had a reactor leak here now. Give us a few minutes to lock it down. Large leak...very dangerous.

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.