When you spend 13 years building the most complexe piece of engineering the world has ever seen, you don’t expect to just flip a switch and everything will work perfectly. You just sure as hell hope it does.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been online a little more than a week now and has already faced a few problems.
The first occurred mere hours after the LHC was put online for the first time for some testing. On September 10th, the LHC was turned on and beams were successfully sent both clockwise and counter-clockwise through the 27kn long underground ring. Unfortunately, a few hours into testing one of the 12 MVA, 20 tonne transformers failed and had to be replaced. The transformer was successfully replaced over the course of last weekend.
The second happened more recently and is much more serious. At least one of the LHC’s 1700 superconducting magnets overheated in an event called a “quench.” A leak sprung and spewed helium gas into the tunnel that houses the collider. The timeline for repairs isn’t known yet. It will depend on how much of the LHC needs to be warmed to room temperature for servicing. The LHC is built in octants, and if workers have to heat and cool an entire octant, then the cooling alone would take several weeks.
Another setback related to computer security. A group of hackers calling themselves the “Greek Security Team” entered CERN’s systems on or around the time the collider came online. They were described as “one step away” from the computer control of the system of one of the LHC’s huge detectors, a 12,500 ton magnet.
These are the first few problems the LHC has encountered, and I’m sure won’t be the last. I think the LHC is an amazing piece of engineering and may take our understanding of the big bang to a whole new level. But amazing pieces of engineering rarely come without problems. We can rest assured that the human race has some of its best minds working on this.