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It was surprisingly difficult finding information about when LHC will restart again. Many will remember how much publicity it attracted around its switch-on time in September 09 – very soon to be followed by a total shutdown after major malfunction. Since then it’s all gone fairly quiet on this front.

Apparently, the fault was with a faulty electrical connection, which led to a leak of super-cold helium. The resulting damage was estimated at £20 million, but with other costs taken into account the total repair bill could be about £30 million.

 The Telegraph reported a week ago that “53 of the magnets used to accelerate sub-atomic particles around the machine’s 17-mile underground tunnel have had to be brought to the surface for repair or cleaning”. Since the fault was found, the collider’s fail-safe protection systems have had to be designed to prevent a similar thing happening again. Unfortunately this sounds as if insufficient time had been allocated to building mechanisms to prevent such problems before the go-live date. How embarassing this must be to Cern’s designers with the multi-million dollar budgets at their disposal!

This is the most recent article on LHC I could find. I guess we’ll be hearing more on the progress of repairs later this spring.

LHC has been reported as damaged by the BBC earlier today. A magnet failure in the £3.6bn ($6.6bn) “atom smasher” was discovered to be a problem worse than initially anticipated. It will now be out of action for 2 months whilst it is being repaired.

It’s of course a huge and disappointing setback for the project. The original schedule anticipated that later this year some tangible experiment results would be available as work gets into its full swing. This will now be all postponed.

Unfortunately there has already been one more minor fault with LHC which was fixed earlier this week, whilst we were mostly preoccupied with the global financial meltdown.

More details from the BBC article here.

Yes, this is old news by the time you read this! LHC has started operating some 4 hours ago as I write this, at about 7am GMT time or at 5pm Melbourne time. And, stating the obvious, the world survived.

Phew, some would say. But not that we ever doubted that things would carry on as normal for the rest of us.

At about 8:30 GMT, some protons were pushed through the the accelerator to confirm it works in principle. The test worked fine – and it appears that this might be the extent of today’s work.

The bulk of LHC’s activities is apparently scheduled to take place later this year. Some would say – there is still time to destroy the world when LHC really gets going. Well, I personally don’t think so – the guys will have done their homework over the 14 years it took to build LHC. And there are other smaller “atom smashers” about, functioning perfectly well without the rest of us noticing.

Here’s to the success of the biggest Atom Smasher the world has ever seen!

Tomorrow a monumental experiment in physics will start in Switzerland. The new particle accelerator, popularly but misleadingly nicknamed “the Big Bang machine”, will generate energies previously unseen by humans on Earth, in the ongoing quest of the physicists to reproduce conditions at the very start of the Universe. They hope to glean new information about the laws of physics and possibly discover the theoretically predicted elementary particles never before recorded.

Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, cost over 8 million euro to build. One particle which might get produced as the result of this experiment is the Higgs boson, which as physicists theoreticise might help explain how all existing objects in the Universe acquire mass. It’s been the sticking point of theoretical physics for a long while.

Why is this important? The experiment might help unify the two conficting theories of the 20th century: Einstein’s General Relativity theory (which explans the Universe at a macro level), and Quantum mechanics (which deals with matter at extreme micro levels). These theories are not compatible, but are both needed for explanations of certain phenomena – e.g. when considering physics of black holes. Previous attempts to combine the equations of both theories have resulted in all matters having zero mass which is clearly wrong.

Why bother spending this much money? Deepening our understanding of the fundamendal laws of nature develops our science and technology in unimaginably rich and diverse ways. For instance this could help in the long term quest to find new sources of energy.

Physics versus religion. How did the Universe come about? As physicists probe ever closer to the time of “the Big Bang”, they hope to eventually answer this big question. Whilst this or other experiments will not likely convince religious people to abandon their faith in the Divine origin, it is bound to generate some more lively debate. Already we have seen clashes of scientists with creationists over the past few years linked to the increase in the popularity of creationism in recent years and their refusal to accept facts about the evolution (granted, this is a different area to particle physics). This debate is bound to continue for some time but I for one will want to see science prevail.

One of the possible reasons for science “losing ground” is that it has become quite complex and out of reach of understanding of a person out on the street. But it is not all smoke and mirrors. It might need to be taught better at schools or be explained in more practical terms.

Why I find this inspiring: Immense respect for the intellectual prowess of scientists, sheer advances in recent technology making such an experimental project possible, and the possibility of breaking down existing barriers to understanding of science by achieving breakthroughs that capture the world’s imagination.

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