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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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  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:17PM (#28944855) Homepage

    Given the reduced energy: Re, the Higgs Boson (that's the one that everybody talks about): Is that still the one sure thing that this machine will sort out? If the Higgs exists, will they still see it right away, and if it doesn't, will the scientists still finally say, "There is no Higgs, we need new physics to account for why; things have mass, something in our standard model went awry"?

  • by tacarat ( 696339 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:25PM (#28945037) Journal
    True, but I'm sure the term "lowest bidder" had something to do with this as well.
  • Re:Conspiracy (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:32PM (#28945163)

    Fermilab has barely enough money to pay its top scientists $20k/year each, they're underfunded and always weeks from being completely canceled as a project. They've had to let many bright minds go in recent years. I highly doubt they have enough money to bribe people, let alone have afford to have meetings about bribing people. LOL. Besides, CERN employees had a very well funded and organized project, why would they take bribes from an underfunded one to sabotage a well-funded one? Your logic does not make sense.

    The problem here is not a conspiracy, its that the scientists working at Fermilab have their shit together. Their design is good, their scientific foundation was sound, their wiring, electronics and magnets were correctly assembled, and they are more experienced.

    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.

  • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:22PM (#28945975) Journal

    ... best of what's still around. I've noticed a distinct decline in the quality of professional services in the last decade.

    Unrelated. The LHC failures have all been caused by unforeseen consequences of standard techniques applied in completely unique situations or new techniques developed to suit the situation. When you are doing something that has literally never, ever been done before things like this are common. Prior experience can only take you so far after that you are learning how to do the thing because you are the first person to ever do it. This is a far cry from installing a sink or rewiring a house which has been done thousands of times before and for which the ways in which it can fail are well known and can be avoided.

    The people involved in the work are not just a few plumbers and electricians that were called up from the local yellow pages (or Pages Jaunes at CERN) but are either CERN employees or employers of contractors. My experience has been that while they are extremely "union" orientated (they are very particular about their breaks, starting/stopping work etc) they are also extremely professional to the point where they have come and shown be the right way to do something so it did not make their work look unprofessional!

  • by N1ck0 ( 803359 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:01PM (#28946573)
    Detecting the Higgs Boson is not a process where you turn on an accelerator, smash some protons and go...'look there it is'.

    Basically they are never going to see a higgs boson, they are going to look at all the stuff that flies out of these collisions and trace back each bit and try to figure out where what its lifecycle was. When you find something that isn't explained by known particles and fits the model of the higgs boson you can statistically believe it exists.

    If the Higgs does exist it you make runs with the accelerator over and over again (it runs at a peak of about 40 million collisions a second). From this you get a large amount of data, about 2GBytes a second. The data is more or less filtered for interesting 'events'. These events are then rated based on how likely they show evidence related to a higgs boson based on various models. Then after a long period of time you look at trends and you can statistically map the mass and energies of particles in an attempt to figure out where the higgs boson exists.

    The LEP (at CERN before he LHC) and The Tevatron (at fermilab) have done a lot of work to narrow down what areas should be focused on...but essentially the more energy you have the more granularity your going to have in the resulting data and thus the more confident they can be about the results.
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:20PM (#28946867)

    I was struck by the craftsmanship and pride that went into trivial things in Germany. For instance, the asphalt on the road doesn't simply get slopped over the concrete curb like in the US... they left a perfect little gap, rarely getting any asphalt at all on the concrete. Then, the tar guy would seal the gap, carefully getting tar only into the gap and very little, if any, on the curb. In the US, they ladle it out without any concern whatsoever about aesthetics.

    Of course it was charming, but completely pointless. Nevertheless, it's good to see people take such pride in their craft, and it makes me feel pretty good about other German products.

  • Censorship? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by algae ( 2196 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:44PM (#28947231)

    You can't help but wonder if these failures aren't a coincidence [].

  • Not quite (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:12PM (#28947625) Homepage Journal
    Why does the NYTimes article say things that are out of date, inaccurate and in some cases flat out wrong ? The interview with Myers is dated 2 July but this article [] from CERN itself dates from the 15th and does not specify any figures for the number of bad connections. They have to run the tests before they know how many bad connections there are, and that hasn't been completed.

    So basically this is a fluff piece that takes various peoples statements out of context and tries to promote a problem that CERN itself does not support. Yes it's late, yes there are issues, but the title LHC struggles is hardly warranted.
  • by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:16PM (#28947701) Journal

    Plus you need a connection that can function down at liquid helium temperatures but doesn't get destroyed when it is brought to room temperature for maintenance. Add to that the massive amount of power going through these connections and you have a very severe environment you have to deal with.

    By the way, when I did some work with electrical connections at liquid helium temps we used indium based solder.

  • by omb ( 759389 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @08:16PM (#28949965)
    It wasn't a complement, It was a rational assessment that most American MBA's are stupid assholes, and are almost as bad as their law school brothers, and far too many European Managers _DO_ copy their tricks, which means that you can not trust the quality or integrity of anything they touch. Eg Apple exploding batteries!

    The implication of that is that you create __TWO__ huge bureaucracies, one in industry, to provide compliance data, and another, in government, to process it. THAT is why the US healthcare system sucks.

    This leads to BIG GOVERNMENT, which is already hopelessly corrupt, and for which there is no real check since the pols and media can always fix the result and there is no real limit to government power.

    In contrast, the idea of The Good Swiss, who does his job, properly, the first time, on his own, is still strong here. It is like that because people think that is (C) The Right Thing To Do.

    One, very obvious, consequence is TAX, in Kanton Zuerich we pay ~ 13% employment tax and 7.6% sales tax, most Kantons are cheaper.

    One pass, haul ass, do it RIGHT the first time (a) works, (b) explains the Swiss attitude to quality.
  • Re:Lazy Europeans (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @09:50PM (#28950653)

    As a European who moved to North America, I observed that "working" (as in being productive, which they like in Europe) is something different than "putting in hours" (which they like in North America).


"You must have an IQ of at least half a million." -- Popeye