It was the centre of attention for the entire world, until that is, it started with barely a whimper. And then it broke down.
On Friday, September 19, 2008, a malfunction in the Large Hadron Collider forced repairs to the giant machine, and it seems, a very large setback. The particle accelerator, the largest of its kind, had to be shut down for repairs.
An electrical link failure between the two 30-tonne superconducting magnets failed, causing a magnet quench. The failure raised the temperature from its operating temperature of -271°C up to 100 °C. Because of the sheer dimensions of the LHC, and the size of the superconducting magnets, the re-cooling and repairs are expected to take another two months.
The temperatures are colder than outer space, and take at least two months to be reached. Whereas, the repairs will only take a few days, and are necessary to steer particles along the speeds of light.
But time is not exactly what scientists have in great amounts. If the repairs and re-cooling is completed before winter, the first of the collisions can take place this year. During the winters, however, the LHC is shut down to save on energy costs and this would mean there will not be any collisions or experiments until 2009.
Scientists at CERN are not worried about this at all. Getting to this point in time, after more than 20 years and costing that reaches up to 8 billion dollars, this seems like an acceptable and expectable setback.
James Gillies, director of communications at CERN, spoke about the incident. “If you keep an eye on the big picture, we've been building the machine for 20 years. The switch-on was always going to be a long process,” said Gillies. “A year or two down the line, this moment will be a distant memory, and we'll be running smoothly.”