Scientists restart Big Bang collider

  • Fri Nov 20th, 2009 10:38pm
  • News

Associated Press

GENEVA — Scientists switched on the world’s largest atom smasher Friday night for the first time since the $10 billion machine suffered a spectacular failure more than a year ago.

It took a year of repairs before beams of protons circulated late Friday in the Large Hadron Collider for the first time since it was heavily damaged by a simple electrical fault.

Circulation of the beams was a significant leap forward. The European Organization for Nuclear Research has taken the restart of the collider step by step to avoid further setbacks as it moves toward new scientific experiments — probably starting in January — regarding the makeup of matter and the universe.

With great fanfare, CERN circulated its first beams Sept. 10, 2008. But the machine was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated and set off a chain of damage to massive superconducting magnets and other parts of the collider, in a 17-mile circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border.

The beams traveled Friday night at a relatively low energy level, but Gillies said the LHC was expected soon to start accelerating them soon so that the collisions they make will be more powerful — and revealing — creating as yet unseen insights into nature.

The LHC operates at nearly absolute zero temperature, colder than outer space, which allows the superconducting magnets to guide the protons most efficiently.

Scientists hope collisions between protons on the machine will give insights into dark matter and what gives mass to other particles, and show what matter was in the microseconds of rapid cooling after the Big Bang that many scientists theorize marked the creation of the universe billions of years ago.

“The next important milestone will be low-energy collisions, expected in about a week from now,” Gillies said.