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Science Technology

Large Hadron Collider Struggling 371

Writing in the NY Times, Dennis Overbye covers the birthing pangs and the prospects for CERN's Large Hadron Collider (which we have discussed numerous times). "The biggest, most expensive physics machine in the world is riddled with thousands of bad electrical connections. [And] many of the magnets meant to whiz high-energy subatomic particles around a 17-mile underground racetrack have mysteriously lost their ability to operate at high energies. Some physicists are deserting the European project, at least temporarily, to work at a smaller, rival machine [Fermilab's Tevatron] across the ocean. ... Technicians have spent most of the last year cleaning up and inspecting thousands of splices in the collider. About 5,000 will have to be redone... Retraining magnets is costly and time consuming, experts say, and it might not be worth the wait to get all the way to the original target energy [of 7 TeV]. Many physicists say they would be perfectly happy if the collider never got above five trillion electron volts. Dr. Myers said he thought the splices as they are could handle 4 [TeV]. 'We could be doing physics at the end of November,' he said in July, before new vacuum leaks pushed the schedule back a few additional weeks. 'It's not the design energy of the machine, but it's 4 times higher than the Tevatron,' he said."
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Large Hadron Collider Struggling

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  • is also usually hard to do

    the setbacks are part and parcel of such a complicated effort

    keep up the hard work, you are broadening mankind's knowledge, the expense and the hard work are as valid an endeavour as any other that can be proposed

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:16PM (#28944815) Journal

    ...that's what happen when you hire the low bidder?

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:16PM (#28944821) Journal
    Agreed. There's a reason the term "cutting edge" is used to describe cutting edge science, and in cutting edge science, well, if it worked perfectly the first time it probably wasn't very ambitious.
  • Re:All (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:20PM (#28944921)

    PS: for the humor impaired: This is a joke.

    Perhaps; but for the rest of us it isn't.

  • by notgm ( 1069012 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:28PM (#28945075)

    1. once an effective way to control time travel is discovered, said method will be able to exist at all times.
    2. no method has yet been discovered.


    3. the method cannot be discovered.

    and finally,

    4. any device which will allow its discovery cannot ever be operational.

    it's in the manual, dummies.

  • Re:Conspiracy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WankersRevenge ( 452399 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:34PM (#28945213)
  • Don't Settle (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:35PM (#28945227)

    I hope they don't settle for running at a lower energy just to avoid criticism about the start date. There is too much potential for what we could discover using the collider's full capacity.

    If it is at all feasible to get this running at or near 100%, it's worth it to put in the time now to fix it. I'd rather wait another year now, then wait 30+ years for the next accelerator to be built.

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:44PM (#28945377)
    Both of your stories are a result of our society telling teenagers that if they want to get ahead, they should go to college, even if their academic skills are no better than average and their trade skills are above average.
  • by SMQ ( 241278 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:45PM (#28945381)
    But the peak current is tens-of-thousands of amps, and the connections are between superconducting cables made of exotic materials, and once the connection is made at room temperature it has to be cooled down by almost 300 degrees (150 times colder than where it started) with all the flexing and stressing that causes, and still can't have more than one or two nano-ohms resistance or the whole experiment blows up. Yes, the electrical connections in the LHC are the equivalent of rocket science.
  • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:59PM (#28945637) Journal
    The aim is still to go to 7TeV/beam this is only a temporary reduction in energy. In addition all the evidence so far points to a low mass higgs, not up at the hard ~1TeV/c2 limit where the energy is actually important. This is not unprecedented - the Tevatron which was supposed to be 1TeV/beam ran at 0.8 TeV for the first run and increased it to 0.96 TeV for the second run.
    However, That being said it was never really the case that would would turn the machine on and the Higgs would magically pop out of the ether for all to see. The most likely scenario is a low mass Higgs which decays to b-quarks. Unfortunately the LHC will be EXTREMELY good at producing b quarks from known physic processes (there is even a entire experiment devoted to studying them - LHCb). The result is that a lot of hard, painstaking work will be needed before we can spot the b quarks from a Higgs from background "ordinary" b quarks. Of course there is still a chance that the Higgs might have enough mass to decay to two Z bosons which would be very easy to see early on but, if the Standard Model Higgs exists, the chance looks slim.
  • by BBF_BBF ( 812493 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:02PM (#28945665)
    Just because it's "cutting edge" doesn't mean it must fail the first time they try to run it for real.... having so many bad joints as part of the reason for failure is a sign of poor workmanship and quality control given the multi-billion dollar budget. It's not a bunch of mad scientists working in their garage on their own dime, it's a bunch of *highly paid* mad scientists using scads of public funds.

    I'd give them the "cutting edge" argument if the physics didn't turn out as expected, but bad joints... give me a break.

    So much for swiss workmanship. ;-)
  • Re:Conspiracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:13PM (#28945833)

    CERN does not have a majority of these under their belt. It might be a difference in how they are managed. Perhaps Fermilab has a better hierarchy, better safety rules and prioritizes work more efficiently. Maybe they actually triple check each wire before they press the On button and CERN cuts corners. This is all supposition, but reality is a harsh mistress and it is obvious they're doing something wrong.

    Clearly you must me be a theoretical physicist, as opposed to a experimentalist, because that explanation was really complicated and stuff, although it did lack the required theoretical physicist collection of complicated equations.

    The experimentalist physicist explanation is, as usual, much simpler, the LHC has more recent news reports about failures than the Tevatron, because the LHC was first run in late 2008, and the tevatron was completed in 1983, somewhat before the birth of a typical grad student, so all the news reports about tevatron teething problems were more than a quarter century ago, and long forgotten. [] []

  • by ragefan ( 267937 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:41PM (#28946271)

    Non-illegal, non-meth-head, reliable and competent contractors are extremely rare around here.

    It's probably because the "non-illegal, non-meth-head, reliable and competent contractors" were constantly underbid and thus driven out of business by people that would rather save a buck than have it done right.

  • by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:50PM (#28946453) Homepage

    the LHC could still be awesome.

  • by Lawrence_Bird ( 67278 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:21PM (#28946873) Homepage

    CERN management did not want to undertake any significant low power testing and consequently suffered a major failure. In addition, as it now seems clear, the overall oversight left something to be desired. I'm not saying people did not work very hard but it is difficult to believe corners were not cut in a race to get running before the Tevatron could start accumulating enough statistics to allow them to spot and claim the Higgs (though still not likely at the 5 sigma level.)

  • by PingXao ( 153057 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:23PM (#28946893)

    If we ever are to control things like gravity and other exotic properties of spacetime it will be with insight and knowledge gained through particle physics theory and experimentation. Sometimes I wonder what discoveries we turned our backs on by cancelling the Superconducting Supercollider that was to be built in Texas. It was cancelled in 1993 in the face of cost overruns. When you look at the history of that project, however, it's clear that it NEEDED to be cancelled. It had become a black hole for money because of design and construction cost overruns. It was more out of control than any strange particles it might have produced. I hope the Large Hadron Collider doesn't suffer the same fate, but it doesn't bode well for the future when the overall design and QC on the manufactured components are now being called into question. Sad. When ambitious projects such as these founder it's usually their own fault.

  • Re:Lazy Europeans (Score:2, Insightful)

    by david_thornley ( 598059 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:01PM (#28947455)

    As opposed to the US method of having it done by people who are generally overstressed, haven't gotten much sleep, and are worried about losing their medical insurance when they finish?

  • by lessthan ( 977374 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:08PM (#28947583)
    I think what he was saying is that American managers are crooked and incompetent, and now his managers, who are imitating American managers, are now also crooked and incompetent. I don't believe that it was the complement you thought it was.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:13PM (#28947663)
    Posting anonymously because I work at Fermi. Go take a look at how long it took us to get up and running; consistently... at full strength. Only NOW are we pushing the really big numbers because we have 30+ years of experience making this machine work.. tweaking it until it hit the peak of its power, and then pushing it a bit farther each time.

    The LHC will eventually get there, but to expect it to be Tevatron perfect on its first run is a bit of an over-reach.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @11:19PM (#28951359)

    Oh come on, It's getting that America is like the Jews of the turn of the century. If some worker or manager in Europe is lazy, incompetent, or simply makes an honest mistake (albeit 5000 honest mistakes is kind of a lot) is it really somehow the evil plotting American's fault? Give us all a break. It's called taking personal responsibility for your actions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @02:09AM (#28952421)

    What about a time machine which cannot go back in time any farther than the moment of it's invention?

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson