Report: Early Warning System Needed for LHC

The replacement parts for the damaged components of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are arriving, and cautious estimates push the recommissioning date back to July 2009. We now know the repair job will cost several million dollars (£14 million according to a recent report) and scientists have identified the cause of the September 19th quench that kick-started an explosive helium leak, buckling and ripping the heavy supercooled magnets from their mounts. But how can this be avoided in the future? After all, the LHC is the most complex experiment ever constructed, there are a huge number of variables that could spell disaster when the LHC is switched back on again. The “S34 Incident” was triggered by a small electrical fault, what can prevent this from happening in the future?

According to the official report, the LHC requires an additional “early warning system” that will be tailored to detect small electrical shorts, hopefully shutting the system down before any further damage to the LHC blocks the search for the Higgs boson again…

It looks like official reports are being published thick and fast. Yesterday, I reported on two CERN reports that contained further details behind the problems faced by the engineers and physicists working on the repair of the LHC. One report suggested that it was an option to push back the date of LHC commissioning until 2010, whereas the other identified July 2009 as a good date to begin circulating protons once more. Now, a BBC news item has exposed some more facts behind the future of the LHC, indicating an early warning system is being considered to prevent an accident like the S34 Incident from happening again.

Obvious buckling of the accelerator magnets (CERN)
Obvious buckling of the accelerator magnets (CERN)
The incident, known as a “quench”, was caused by an electrical short between two of the 1200 electromagnets that make up the ring of the particle accelerator. This seemingly small fault was anything but; it initiated the rapid release of a tonne of helium, buckling and breaking the magnets between Sectors 3-4. Describing what happened, LHC project leader Professor Lyn Evans said, “Basically, they have been pulled off their feet and the interconnects have been broken.”

The electrical fault occurred right at the end of the commissioning process, even after the first protons had circulated around the long accelerator ring on September 10th. At the time, the LHC had seven of its eight sectors powered up to full energy, but the quench occurred right at the end of the process. “We are extremely disappointed, especially as we had already commissioned seven of the eight sections of the LHC up to full energy,” Evans said. “This was the last sector to be commissioned and this was really the very last electrical circuit. I must say it felt like a real kick in the teeth.”

If the experiments had continued as planned, scientists would be analysing the ground-breaking particle collision data by now, but it looks like CERN will be taking an even more cautious approach form here on in. “You can think of the LHC as a Formula 1 racing car. It’s a complex tool, a complex machine,” commented Dr Francisco Bertinelli, one of the engineers repairing the magnets. “We will not run it from zero to top speed over one afternoon. We will build up our confidence and lower our risks.”

Generally, although frustrated, scientists are very excited about the future for the LHC. Prof. Tejinder Verdee of Imperial College London reminds us why this is only a minor glitch in the grand scheme of things: “This science has the potential to alter the way we see nature and the way nature operates at a fundamental level so this potential still remains, albeit a few months delayed. The great science is still out there ahead of us, which is greatly motivating.”

The unravelling of the fabric of the Universe has just been delayed and the physics revolution can wait a few more months…

Source: BBC

17 Replies to “Report: Early Warning System Needed for LHC”

  1. It will also improve information storing techniques – something that will help alot too. It was actually CERN that started the internet to communicate results and findings.

  2. the more redundant equipment the better for safety and accident prevention. Of course, there is a trade off since there are budget constraints.
    Hopefully they fill resolve this soon and start the machine again! yay!!!

  3. leigh:
    Be happy they are spending that money in something that actually helps improve humanity as a whole.

  4. I have to wonder what the LHC will do to ‘improve humanity’. I’ve never actually worked that part out.

    20 million dollars to run campaigns for women who have their faces burnt off by angry men throwing acid at them. There’s an experiment that will improve humanity as a whole 😀

  5. Hey Gwydion, stopping angry men from throwing acid on the faces of women doesn’t require an expensive scientific experiment. Changing the way men think about women and changing legislation to require harsher penalties for the twisted men who do that would help.

    The LHC has the potential to improve our lives by leading us to a better understanding of the fundamental laws of matter and energy. Without that crucial understanding our technology won’t go much further. We need more insight into the laws of nature if we want to make things like cold fusion and other advanced technologies work. With those advanced technologies we’ll be able to, for example, break away from our dependence on burning hydrocarbons for energy.

  6. Actually, it was not CERN who started the Internet. The Internet was an offshoot of ARPA. CERN gave us WWW (the web) which is just 1 part of the Internet. WWW may be the most visible/popular part of the Internet these days but it is by no means the Internet. Before WWW, we were communicating results, findings and porn via email, email lists, newsgroups, FTP, etc.

  7. Every pressurized system suposed to be equiped with flow switch and some shut-off valves. I wonder about the designers there.

  8. Gwydion – you can’t stop a landslide by stopping each rock. Social disease is best treated by improving society, so things which were once (or are elsewhere) considered the norm are now considered and treated as crimes.

    Modern society, in which throwing acid at women is unacceptable, is mostly a product of the enlightment – transportation, communication, availability of goods…

    If you had $20M 300 years ago, do you think you could have advocated for these women?

    It is very difficult to advocate gender equality in a society that is constantly preoccupied with simple survivial.

    So there’s your connection – burning witches (and owning humans, and just simple rape and murder) used to be the norm, and now they are crimes, and the “LHC-type people” have a lot to do with it..

    Looking forward, if we don’t get a lot better at science and technology, we run the risk of reverting back to a primitive society, with all the horrific consequences that you can read about in the newspapers if you get past the front-page politics.

    The results of LHC will save a lot of lives in the next centuries, but most people won’t make the connection.

    So there, rant over.

    That said, when I left the supermarket, I did give my $ to an abused women shelter, not to the NSF.


  9. Well, I am glad that the people in charge whose opinion actually matter choose to invest 20 million $$ in the problems of science and not the problems of society.
    Go argue about social politics somewhere else.
    This is a scientific blog.

  10. Usman, if you are referring to the LHC news, I expect that it will prove to have quite a lot to do with astronomy. Astronomy has also given scientists insights into fundamental physics questions. If you are referring to the “social engineering” discussion, perhaps not so much. I imagine, however, that to those women who were brutalized, it might seem important that someone cares, even if it has little to do with astronomy.

  11. Science, be it Fundamental or compuncted in the fields of physics or social all start with a mark to parchment (of a beast not a human) when life becomes someones narcissistic its time to send that person to their home. with the agreed upon, the wage to the job they were to do. The exploration of our universe is the gift of time to the future fields. The art of law to life needs to be in fair taste of civil respect. Money is an art. Natural people grow with good balance of both male and female mind to men and to woman, to understand were home is and work to make it an oasis to the desert of our fields.

  12. I wish i could read the bit of paper stuck in the clear slip on the RHS .. can only assume with an arrow it says : “this bit broken” ..

    “The unravelling of the fabric of the Universe has just been delayed and the physics revolution can wait a few more months…” <– Brilliant synopsis.

  13. Gwyndion said

    ” have to wonder what the LHC will do to ‘improve humanity’. I’ve never actually worked that part out.”

    Re: Gwyn and others who doubt the LHC and similar science expendatures.

    Actually, I agree. If they do discover/confirm the Higgs boson, or some other currently unexpected particle, it will probably turn out to be totally irrevelant to everyday life, just like that pesky electron which Thompson discovered and which we all know never amounted to a hill of beans for any of us.

    PS: does your smoke detector contain Americium?

  14. In our local paperin Geneva they say that the CERN will maximize the evacuation capacity of refrigarating gases on the 27 kilometers of the LHC tunnel…. I wonder:
    1. what kind of gas was / is used to refrigerate?
    2. what they did with it on december 11th when they decided to let the tunnel heat up again (that took a few weeks) in order to go and have a look at the damages.
    3. will they use the same gas (if they stored it /how / where/) or a new supply to refrigerate the 27 kilometers of tunnel…. I wonder how much gas that is? And when it will escape through the maximized evacuation channels what will the effect be on the local environment?
    I would really like to know, even if the above questions are not related to the glorious research conducted via the LHC…. that point is a real issue depending on the kind of refrigerating gas used… (we all know what a regrigerator is, don’t we?)
    Is there anyone there to answer this matter of fact concern?

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