Glitch shut down world's biggest atom smasher
Operator delayed report for week
GENEVA - The world's largest particle collider malfunctioned within hours of its launch to great fanfare, but its operator didn't report the problem for a week.
In a statement yesterday, the European Organization for Nuclear Research reported for the first time that a 30-ton transformer that cools part of the collider broke, forcing physicists to stop using the atom smasher just a day after starting it up last week.
The faulty transformer has been replaced and the ring in the 17-mile circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border has been cooled back down to near zero on the Kelvin scale - minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit - the most efficient operating temperature, said a statement by CERN, as the organization is known.
When the transformer malfunctioned, operating temperatures rose from below 2 Kelvin to 4.5 Kelvin - extraordinarily cold by most standards, but warmer than the normal operating temperature.
CERN had not reported any problems with the project since its launch Sept. 10, but issued its statement shortly after the Associated Press called asking about rumors of troubles.
Physicists said it wasn't surprising that problems would occur in getting a huge and immensely complicated collection of equipment like the Large Hadron Collider up and running smoothly.
"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," Steve Giddings, physics professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. "It's a real challenge requiring incredible talent, brain power and coordination to get it running."
Judith Jackson, spokesman for the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., echoed that view.
"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.