Big Bang at the atomic lab after scientists get their maths
Jonathan Leake, Times Science Editor
(April 8, 2007) A £2 billion project to answer some of the biggest mysteries of the universe has been delayed by months after scientists building it made basic errors in their mathematical calculations. The mistakes led to an explosion deep in the tunnel at the Cern particle accelerator complex near Geneva in Switzerland. It lifted a 20-ton magnet off its mountings, filling a tunnel with helium gas and forcing an evacuation.It means that 24 magnets located all around the 17-mile circular accelerator must now be stripped down and repaired or upgraded.
The failure is a huge embarrassment for Fermilab, the American national physics laboratory that built the magnets and the anchor system that secured them to the machine.It appears Fermilab made elementary mistakes in the design of the magnets and their anchors that made them insecure once the system was operational.
Last week an apparently furious and embarrassed Pier Oddone, director of Fermilab, wrote to his staff saying they had caused “a pratfall on the world stage”. He said: “We are dumb-founded that we missed some very simple balance of forces. Not only was it missed in the engineering design but also in the four engineering reviews carried out between 1998 and 2002 before launching the construction of the magnets.”The machine, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), aims to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang, when the universe is thought to have exploded into existence about 14 billion years ago.
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