Europe's atom-smasher chief signals caution

26th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The new director of the Large Hadron Collider on the Franco-Swiss border will allow outside checks.

GENEVA - The new director of Europe's Big Bang machine signalled in an interview published Sunday that he will be more cautious than his predecessor, following a major breakdown that damaged its multi-billion dollar launch.

The giant atom-smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), broke down only days after being switched on by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in September 2008, causing more than CHF 30 million of repairs (EUR 20 million, USD 26 million).

Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director-general of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, told the Swiss newspaper Sonntag that the bill could even reach CHF 40 million.

Heuer, who succeeded Frenchman Robert Aymar at the beginning of January, said the LHC will be checked by outside experts before any attempt is made to switch the machine back on, probably in July.

"I want to be sure that everything works", said Heuer of the CHF 6 billion particle accelerator that runs through a 27-kilometre tunnel under the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.

"So I'll also let an external group make additional checks on the accelerator", he added.

The German particle physicist explained that he did not mistrust the 10,000 staff at the organisation and said that it was easier to act with hindsight.

"But when you have been working on something for so long, with time you can become blinded by the system and don't find all the faults", he added.

After more than a decade of work, the first beams were fired down the new accelerator on 10 September 2008 only to break down due to a helium leak from its cooling system nine days later.

Heuer said he would seek less publicity when the LHC, which is designed to help unravel the secrets of the origins of the universe, is switched on again, probably in summer 2009.

"That'll only come when everything is working. I'm a bit more careful in that respect than my predecessor".

The LHC is meant to progressively increase power and Heuer said that he does not want to push for a full energy beam until 2010 at the earliest, after new protection systems are added.

The exact schedule for the experiment is due to be discussed by scientists early February at a meeting in Chamonix, France.

The LHC is the most powerful in a series of atom-smashers at the 20-nation research organisation that helped advance knowledge of particle physics and the workings of the laws of nature since CERN was founded in 1954.

[AFP / Expatica]

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