Based underneath the line that separates France and Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider has become the center of scientific endeavor for the general public to focus on. First prophesied to bring ruin to the whole universe (or at least that little bit that surrounds us), the LHC has now been deemed safe. Subsequently, knowing that it won’t blast us all (or suck us all) into a black hole, the LHC has begun commissioning.
Set to have its first particle beams injected in August of this year, the LHC must first bring its temperature down, so as to obtain the highest possible magnetic fields while consuming the least amount of power.
In other words, the over 1600 magnets that make up the 27 kilometer long tunnel must be brought to low temperatures so that the electrical current being channeled along its length experience zero resistance and very little power loss.
Currently, six out of the eight sectors making up the LHC have been brought down to between 4.5 and 1.9 Kelvin, which equals out to be around -270C and -454F. The commissioning cooling will be complete when all eight sectors reach 1.9 Kelvin. For comparison, the temperature in deep space measures in at about 2.7 Kelvin.
Needless to say, given the time that it takes to cool these objects down, and the delays that could occur if a mistake is made, the LHC teams are meticulous. "We have a very systematic process for the commissioning of this machine, based on very carefully designed procedures prepared with experience we have gathered on prototypes," said Roberto Saban, the LHC's head of hardware commissioning.
"Our motto is: no short cuts... exchanging a single component which today is cold, is like bringing it back from the Moon. It takes about three to four weeks to warm it up. Then it takes one or two weeks to exchange. Then it needs three to six weeks to cool down again. So, you see, it is three months if we make a mistake."
Obviously one of the most high profile searches that the LHC will be conducting is for the fabled god-particle, the Higgs Boson. The discovery of this particle would go a long way towards the search for a Grand Unified Theory, which seeks to unify three of the four known fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force, leaving out only gravity.
But there are other discoveries hoping to be made through the whizzing and crashing particles bouncing around inside the LHC; questions such as “are there extra dimensions indicated by theoretical gravitons?” and “what is the nature of dark matter and dark energy?”