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LHC kicks in both directions

(Credit: Olaf Behrendt)

By Jon Cartwright

Could it be — touch wood — that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will make it to the official 10 September start-up date without any further hiccups?

On Friday scientists at the European laboratory CERN were able to tick off two more items on the accelerator’s commissioning list. First, they managed to feed a bunch of protons from the transfer line of the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) into the LHC and then steer it some three kilometres round the beam pipe in a counter-clockwise direction. Second, a detector at LHCb — one of the four main experiments at the LHC — got the first taste of collision debris.

The counter-clockwise test, which follows a similar test in the clockwise direction on 8 August, is the most important in terms of preparations for the September switch-on. Feeding proton bunches from the SPS into the LHC (“kicking” as accelerator scientists call it) is a tricky process, requiring pulsed magnets to synchronize with one another at nanosecond precision. “Thanks to a fantastic team, both the clockwise and counter-clockwise tests went without a hitch,” said LHC project leader Lyn Evans in a press statement. “We look forward to a resounding success when we make our first attempt to send a beam all the way around the LHC.”

The detection of particle collisions was more of a confidence boost to all those working at LHCb, the experiment that will seek to examine the differences between matter and antimatter. The collisions themselves were produced at a purposefully positioned concrete block near where the counter-clockwise proton bunch entered the LHC beam pipe. When the proton bunch struck the block, the resultant debris showered 200 m down the pipe and was picked up by the silicon detector at LHCb known as VELO (vertex locator).

“We’re all very, very excited,” said Paula Collins, project leader of VELO, on the phone to me a moment ago. Although on maternity leave, Collins couldn’t resist popping into the LHCb control room on Friday to witness the groundbreaking event. At that time the VELO scientists only powered up a quarter of the detector, but they were reassured enough to power up the whole detector for another successful trial on Sunday. “It’s been 10 years since we started in earnest [to design and build] VELO,” she added.

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  1. andreicio

    Why exactly is this groundbreaking? And why the wine bottles? This thing was supposed to operate since 2005. Or May of this year. I especially object to these articles using cute euphemisms. For example it might be time to call the problems with the LHC an unmitigated disaster rather than “hiccups.” The door at CERN is allways open for Mr. Cockup. So the September 10 date is most likely going to get blown. Or they will do the circulation but only half way or with some other limitation. And no the insertin did not go well as reports. The CERn website states that this insertion will have to be performed again. Presumably before September 10 or the next schedule soon to be anounced.

  2. WalterKras

    Every party needs a pooper. That’s why we invited you.
    You sound like someone whose parents spanked you when you took your first baby steps because you fell down the first 20 times you tried!
    Get a life!

  3. Ender

    That’s how complex experiments get to work. They always need to be tuned up before they become operational at their optimal parameters. The more complex, the longer it takes. You must understand that these people are getting where no one else has ever been yet. Anyone who has set up a research lab knows why it’s so exhilarating when it comes up to life. I guess you’re a theoretitian, aren’t you?

  4. Malc

    Hey, I’m a theoretician and I’m thrilled by the fact that this machine could ever work, even if it took 100 years.
    well done!

  5. Ender

    My apologies! I didn’t mean to bash theoreticians.
    I may add that the Tevatron at Fermilab has taken around 7 years to achieve the performance it was expected after its upgrade. Setting up complex experiments like these is difficult and time consuming. The congratulations to these people should be accordingly warmer.


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