The date 10 September 2008 was forseen by some as the end of the world, at least if you believed scientists who were trying to pull the plug on an experiment that some dubbed the ‘Doomsday Test’. The $9 billion ‘atom-smasher’, aka the Large Hadron Collider, which was made viewable to the public in early 2008, was developed by CERN to try and recreate the chemical reactions that took place when the universe came into existence around 14 billion years ago.
The huge particle accelerator is designed to fire atomic particles around a 17-mile long underground ring (so fast that they’ll be making 11,245 trips every second) and then collide them head on. The results are expected to shed new light on theoretical parts of the atom such as Higgs boson, as well as reveal new dimensions beyond the four we know about and push the boundaries of our knowledge of the universe further than ever before.
The concern was based around predictions that millions of tiny black holes would be produced and to quote Otto Rossler, one of the scientists mounting a legal challenge at the European Court for Human Rights “It is quite plausible that these little black holes will survive and will grow and eat the planet from the inside out.”
Obviously this didn’t happen, but following successful initial tests a faulty electrical connection brought proceedings to a halt and the project has been continuously delayed since.
After over a year of setbacks it appears as though the Large Hadron Collider is ready for a second attempt and rather sensibly scientists will be easing things in gently by starting at just 3.5 trillion electron volts per beam – half of the 7 TeV that was originally intended.
The resulting collisions would still offer the potential of uncovering exciting new physics and would still be a world-first under laboratory conditions.
"We've selected 3.5 TeV to start" states director general of CERN Rolf Heuer, "because it allows the LHC operators to gain experience of running the machine safely while opening up a new discovery region for the experiments. The LHC is a much better understood machine than it was a year ago. We can look forward with confidence and excitement to a good run through the winter and into next year."
Containing 10,000 high-currency superconducting electrical connections at a cost of $9billion and 15 years of research and development, it seems prudent to start things off slowly to prevent any more delays. Following successful tests at 3.5 TeV CERN will move up in stages to 5 TeV running into late 2010, before retiring it again to prepare for the original, 7 TeV per beam goal.