The LHC: play­ing the long game

Focus-Science and Technology - - Discoveries -

ACK IN 2003, when I first vis­ited the atom­s­mash­ing lab at CERN in Geneva, there was a frenzy of con­struc­tion go­ing on, as the Large Hadron Col­lider was in the process of be­ing in­stalled.

Jour­nal­ists are no good at be­ing pa­tient, and the prospect of the place un­earthing any­thing use­ful seemed im­pos­si­bly dis­tant. Still, my cam­era­man and I were shown the cathe­dral-sized voids where the gi­ant de­tec­tors were soon to be in­stalled. We strolled through the empty tun­nels that would later house mag­nets that would guide beams of pro­tons. And we in­ter­viewed half a dozen sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers about their hopes for the project. Frankly, it all felt more like a science fic­tion film set than a re­search cen­tre.

A few years later, we re­turned for a day of live broad­casts from the site of the CMS de­tec­tor. We pro­vided hourly up­dates as a 1,000-tonne com­po­nent the size of a large house was gin­gerly low­ered un­der­ground. But the no­tion of the gi­gan­tic ma­chines achiev­ing hard re­sults still seemed very far off.

On an­other as­sign­ment, I was of­fered the chance to ride a bike through part of the tun­nel. By now, all of the col­lider’s equip­mentp was in pplace and I wor­ried about crash­ing into some­thing del­i­cate. Even then, the scene seemed sur­real.

In 2008 the big switch-on, when it even­tu­ally came, was quickly over­shad­owed by a blast in one of the mag­nets – not an ex­plo­sion, in­sisted the CERN press team. All the same, it was a se­ri­ous set­back and meant fur­ther de­lay. Back in the news­room,, where col­leagues are geared for break­ing news and in­stant re­ac­tions, the LHC’s timescale seemed grind­ingly slow. So when con­fir­ma­tion of the ex­is­tence of the Higgs bo­son fi­nally ar­rived in 2012, we had to re­mind ev­ery­one why it was ma­jor news.

Now the LHC, given nearly dou­ble the power it had be­fore, is em­bark­ing on a new round of ex­plo­ration. And once again the tim­ing of any out­come is ut­terly un­pre­dictable. So a ven­ture dreamed up in one decade, funded in the next, and built in a third is only now bear­ing fruit – and we in the me­dia con­tinue to keep watch with a mix of dis­be­lief and ad­mi­ra­tion.

Screens in a con­trol room

con­firm the suc­cess­ful test- fir­ing of the LHC’s beam

of par­ti­cles af­ter its restart

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.