Hadron Collider closer to going online

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - After 14 years and $8 billion, lawsuits and the occasional exploding magnet, the world’s largest physics experiment seems to be getting close enough to becoming a reality for its participants to plan the opening parties.

The Large Hadron Collider, under construction at CERN, outside Geneva, is designed to accelerate protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts and then smash them together in search of new particles and perhaps new forces of nature.

Although no schedule has been officially announced, sources in the physics community and CERN’s own Web site indicate that scientists and engineers will try to shoot the first beam of protons through one section of 17-mile-long racetrack on the weekend of Aug. 9.

If all goes well, the first protons will begin circulating around the entire machine on Sept. 2 or 3.

After that, the engineers estimate that it will take one or two months of tweaking and ratcheting up the intensity of the beams before they begin colliding and producing “pilot physics.” The initial collisions will be at five trillion electron volts apiece because the engineers have not had time to condition the giant superconducting magnets that funnel the protons around the racetrack to produce fields strong enough to bend seven-trillion-electron volt protons.

CERN shuts down the accelerators for the winter to save on electricity costs, so the magnets will be “trained” for the higher energies then. In the meantime the armies of physicists that have built the machine’s two giant detectors, called Atlas and C.M.S., have planned start-up parties in October, and CERN is planning a big event on Oct. 21.

For those who like their physics in rhyme, there is now a rap video. The author and rapper is Kate McAlpine, aka alpinekat, a science writer who works at CERN and who also has a rap about neurons on YouTube.

She says she wrote the lyrics during her 40-minute bus commute from Geneva out to the lab. In an e-mail message, she emphasized that this was not an official CERN project, and that in fact that she had to get CERN’s press office to vouch for her so she could go down into the tunnel where some filming took place.

“My friends took a bit of convincing before they’d dance on camera,” she added. “However, unlike the first rap video about the neurochip, there was no tequila involved.”


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