Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – The LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at Cern could be up and running by August, if all goes according to plan. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) said Thursday 30 April that it has taken an important step in completing repairs to the LHC. The massive structure was damaged 19 September 2008, just days after Cern turned on the switch to the machine that is designed to answer questions about the very first instants after the Big Bang.
The LHC is the biggest and most expensive machine ever built. Steve Myers, Cern’s director for accelerators and technology, says that on Thursday a final massive superconducting magnet, called a quadrupole, was lowered into the tunnel, parts of which are 100m underground. It replaces magnets that were damaged in September.
“This is an important milestone in the repair process,” he said. “It gets us close to where we were before the incident and allows us to concentrate our efforts on installing the systems that will ensure a similar incident won’t happen again.”
The series of interconnected magnets, cooled to induce superconductivity at – 272° C, are used to focus the particle beams that will smash into each other at speeds approaching that of light.
An electrical malfunction in the tunnel caused the helium coolant to heat up in September 2008, increasing the pressure in the tunnel and causing severe damage. At the beginning of 2009, Cern’s new director general, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, estimated that repair costs could reach CHF40 million.
Efforts are now underway to connect the magnet system underground, to integrate an improved monitoring system inside the tunnel to head off future problems and, most importantly, to reinforce and expand the ventilation system, in order to release the helium gas if pressure builds up again.