In a recent BBC interview with the LHC project director Dr Lyn Evans, the Welshman talks about the “collateral damage” caused by the collider’s catastrophic quench that damaged a section of the aligned superconducting magnets in September.
Although the £14 million repairs are challenging, Evans is very confident CERN engineers and scientists are on-track for the LHC to go online in the summer of 2009.
“But we now have the roadmap, the time and the competence necessary to be ready for physics by summer,” he said. “We are currently in a scheduled annual shutdown until May, so we’re hopeful that not too much time will be lost.”
On September 19th, only a week after the successful circulation of protons around the LHC, an electrical fault between sectors 3-4 led to the quench, releasing tonnes of helium coolant, ripping the heavy electromagnets from their concrete anchors. The quench, also known as the “S34 Incident”, was a huge shock for the engineers working at the LHC, but when we push back the boundaries of accelerator complexity, there are bound to be a few knocks along the way.
Evans admits that there is “a big mess to clean up” but he also points out that this accident happened at a very fortuitous time, as the LHC was going to be shut down at the end of November to May 2009 anyway (for routine maintenance and to save on expensive European winter electricity costs). As it turns out, if the repairs can be completed by summer, science at the LHC has only been delayed for around 5 months (assuming it can be online by July). Unfortunately, the extra cost to repair the LHC has to come from somewhere and Evans admits that some experiments may have to be put on hold to pay for the repairs.
What has been learnt from this ordeal is that the LHC needs an early warning system to alert scientists of any fault before it can trigger quenches in the future.
“I think we have done not only investigating the cause of the incident but making sure it can never happen again and I think that’s an essential thing,” said Dr Evans. “We now have developed a means to be able to spot such things before they create any damage so when the machine comes back up again it will come on safely and it will have a long and productive life.”
Let’s hope the repair job goes to plan so we can start getting excited once again for the continuing search for the Higgs particle this summer…