[/caption]According to reports, only a day after the first successful circulation of protons in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) last week, operations at the world’s largest particle accelerator had to be stopped due to a fault with a 30 tonne transformer used to cool part of the facility. The protons were not being accelerated at the time and there was no risk to safety at the LHC.
Rather than maintaining the equipment below the operational 2 Kelvin, the transformer glitch caused temperatures to rise to over 4 Kelvin (which is still cold, after all it is only 4 degrees above absolute zero – but it’s not cold enough). The transformer failed after the successful anticlockwise circulation of protons on the evening of September 11th and rumours about LHC problems have only just been confirmed…
This was bound to be a frustrating problem for the LHC engineers, but in many respects it was inevitable. This is a facility more complex than any technology ever built; a 27 km ring of 1000 supercooled electromagnets, operating at a temperature colder than anything in the Universe, with 2000 separate power supplies and a vast number of synchronized detectors and sensors… it’s little wonder the LHC may experience one or two technical hitches.
“This is arguably the largest machine built by humankind, is incredibly complex, and involves components of varying ages and origins, so I’m not at all surprised to hear of some glitches. It’s a real challenge requiring incredible talent, brain power and coordination to get it running.” – Steve Giddings, physics professor at University of California, Santa Barbara
However, this fault was critical to LHC operations, ultimately shutting the experiment down until technicians find the problem. Judith Jackson, spokesman for the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, is not surprised the LHC should suffer the occasional setback. “We know how complex and extraordinary it is to start up one of these machines. No one’s built one of these before and in the process of starting it up there will inevitably be glitches,” she said.
Apparently, transformer malfunctions are commonplace in particle accelerators. “These things happen,” she said. “It’s a little setback and it sounds like they’ve dealt with it and are moving forward.”
According to CERN scientists, the proton beams made “several hundred orbits” clockwise and anticlockwise before the experiment had to shut down.
The Associated Press investigation into the September 11th transformer glitch indicates that the problem has been identified and CERN scientists are still on track for the first particle collisions in October.