For those of you who have been reading this blog the past two years, you know I am a geek. A geek who loves particle physics and all the mathematical possibilities and potential for insanity that includes.
I have been waiting 15 years with baited breathe (really, like Posh at Paris fashion week) for the new Large Hadron Collider at CERN to go online and start kicking some quark ass. But alas the project has been plagued with stops and starts, rumors and breakdowns. First there were the scaredy cats who said, “Oh no! You will create black holes that will encompass the earth.” In other words, ‘eat us alive!’ Ooooh – so not likely. Then the sci-fi buffs (yes, like me) who said, ‘Oooooh it will create wormholes to be a gateway for time travelers’. Also unlikely.
It took 15 years to build and cost $9 – 10 billion, but worthwhile endeavors surely as we are looking for a more succinct understanding of our universe and thereby more clearly understand our own existence. The problems began as early as 2007 when the housing around one magnet exploded during a pressure test, this cause the removal and redesign of nine 80-foot magnet assemblies.
When they first cranked it up 10 September 2008 it was more a whimper than a bang. Sigh.
A faulty connection between two magnets triggered a meltdown, which delayed the world’s biggest science experiment by two months – or so we thought at the time. However… the collider was forced to shut down for another year in order to carry out repairs. It has been in a winter shutdown since December for more problems with the magnets.
The plans now are to crank the Collider up to half power later this month and run experiments for the next two years, and then shut it down (again) for repairs in 2012, with plans to crank her up again in 2013. Ooof. “Testing revealed that the collider is riddled with thousands of defective electrical joints and dozens of underperforming magnets that will keep it from reaching its full potential until an overhaul scheduled for 2011.” (New York Times)
What it will hopefully do is show us, even at half power, some nice quark-gluon plasma, a state of matter that existed just after the Big Bang.
“That future [of the experiments], physicists say, includes not only the sheen of announcing exotic particles and strange dimensions, but also the ancillary rewards of increased technological competence and innovation that spring from the pursuit of esoteric knowledge.” (New York Times) One of the collider’s main targets is the Higgs boson, a particle that is thought to imbue other particles with mass and has even been theorized to be “the God particle” – in other words a Rosetta Stone of particle physics.
Meanwhile I will, like the scientists at CERN, take what I can get at half power the next two years and hope for more revelations after the overhaul in 2012.
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