Latest From The LHC

The LHC web-site contains a wealth of up-to-date information about how things are going there as they are commissioning the machine. In particular, one can follow the latest news about how things are going in each sector here, which may or may not give a more accurate picture of the situation than various rumors.

Today an updated commissioning schedule appeared at the web-site. One can see how things are going by comparing to the previous version (from Aug. 3, still available right now here). Attempts to cool down certain sectors have taken longer than expected, and the new schedule has them cooled to operating temperature 2-3 months later than in the previous schedule. The “Machine Checkout” and “Beam Commissioning” periods have not been changed yet, but it’s not clear that the way they are currently listed still makes any sense (can you be commissioning the beam while still doing powering tests on the sectors??). It looks to me as if the present situation is that they are 2-3 months behind schedule now, and if all goes well, physics runs could start not next July as planned, but maybe in September at the earliest.

The CERN director general Robert Aymar issued a statement today that begins:

In an age of blogs there are seemingly no secrets…

and ends

All of this is business as usual when bringing a new particle accelerator on-line. There are inevitably hurdles to be overcome, but so far there have been no show stoppers. We can all look forward to the LHC producing its first physics in 2008.

I take the lack of any reference to the July 2008 date to mean that they acknowledge the schedule has slipped, but still think the slippage will only be a few months.

Update: I should also have mentioned this article, which explains how they are trying to deal with one of the most serious problems: using RF transmitters in ping-pong balls blown through the beam pipe to try and find broken copper fingers in the so-called “plug-in modules”.

Update: Physics World has a story about this that starts:

Robert Aymar, the director general of CERN, has dispelled rumours that a series of buckled electrical connectors at the Large Hadron Collider will delay the accelerator’s official start-up date of May 2008.

In a technical sense this may be accurate, in that evidently the “official” start-up date has not been changed since the previous schedule. But the new schedule shows that things are two to three months behind where they are supposed to be to make the May 2008 date, so it now seems unlikely that that will be the date when they have a beam, or that July will be when they start doing physics. In his statement Aymar only promised start-up in 2008, so I take this to mean that he was quashing rumors about a delay into 2009, not the ones about a 2-3 month delay.

Update: Nature’s Geoff Brumfiel has a new story about this. He quotes project leader Lyn Evans as saying the schedule is now quite tight

“The next three months are going to be pretty critical,” says Evans. “If something unforeseen comes up between now and then, it will slip. There’s no doubt.”

During this period one will be able to see exactly how they are doing. The cool-down schedule is here, periodic updates on how things are going in each sector are here, and the actual temperature of the magnets can be followed here.

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24 Responses to Latest From The LHC

  1. Paolo says:

    > which may or may not give a more accurate picture

    Maybe it’s just me (I’m italian) but to date I fail to understand which is the informative content of the “may or may not” sentences, in english. Definitely we don’t have an equivalent in italian, neither in spanish and french, I think. Nitpicking…

  2. Peter Woit says:


    I guess it’s pretty much pure stylistic affectation, just designed to indicate that reasons could be given for either of the alternatives being mentioned.

  3. Hi Paolo,

    there is no italian equivalent afaik (pqns 🙂 but there is informative content indeed in what Peter wrote… It casts some doubts while hiding the hand…


  4. Yatima says:

    What about “peut-être bien que non, peut-être bien que oui”, usually given in response to an indiscrete question? 😉

  5. Paolo says:

    Argh, “peut-être bien que non, peut-être bien que oui” , I didn’t know about that! (honestly I’m not praticing much french these days beyond “Cahiers du cinema” and a few movies from time to time) What a waste of words… what a waste of words… 😉

  6. fulo says:

    Definitely we don’t have an equivalent in italian, neither in spanish and french, I think. Nitpicking…

    “May or may not” in Spanish, “puede o no”. I’d have guessed in Italian it would be the same thing, something like “puodi o non” or “puodi o menos” or some such. But then, I don’t speak Italian… 🙂

  7. Paolo says:

    This is quickly becoming off-topic, sorry to Peter. But, anyway, of course I can say “may or may not” in Italian, the question is whether it’s *common* in italian to say “… blah, blah, may or may not this, blah, blah, may or may not that…”. It isn’t, definitely. I maintain the same is by and large true of other neo-latin languages besides italian. In italian we can certainly say the rough equivalent of “may”, meaning “it is possible”, but it would be considered completely redundant to negate that “may” and add to it. Apparently, however, in english, something special happens, and “may or may not” becomes a single “block”, and, in a sense, native speakers do not instinctively appreciate that if something “may” (vs must) of course logically also “may not” and it’s not necessary do add the negation. That’s my point. That said, each language has its own weird, seemingly irrational, corners, I could mention 1000 in italian…

  8. wb says:

    Finding the damaged rf fingers is very important, but is not the only impediment to smooth sailing. One is left with the problem of the improperly fabricated fingers that are likely to damage in a thermal cycling of the machine.

  9. Ellipsis says:

    Peter (and all):

    In fact, the answer to your question, as for what CERN management is officially stating (and which I’m _not_ going to try to defend), is _no_ — the official position is that the schedule remains with a _July 2008 start for beams_, despite the issues (which they believe can be solved without additional delay)…

    Here is the talk, fresh from 6 hours ago, from Lyn Evans (LHC accelerator project leader):

    Also of interest may be Peter Jenni’s (ATLAS spokesperson) talk yesterday:

    Here’s what will probably really happen (but it’s not that far from reality, the problems really aren’t as bad as some were stating orginally). See p. 10 of Peter Jenni’s talk. The LHC Inaguration Day, at which multiple “VVIPs” (science ministers, and several European prime ministers and presidents, even a few royals — probably Sarkozy, the Swiss president, German minister of economics & technology, some members of the Dutch royal family(?), maybe Ray Orbach for the U.S., …) will come to CERN for the official inauguration of the LHC, is October 21 of next year. There MUST be a collision or two, or at VERY least storage of (low current) beams, by that date, to show particles colliding to a very large number of dignitaries in the control room.

    I think Peter Jenni’s original statement (last month, that he appears to still hold) that there would probably, in the end, be a ~2 month delay is still correct. But the official CERN position is that the schedule remains for July beams next year.

    Put your money on 1 or 2 observed proton collisions and corresponding pretty event displays by early October next year. But note that nobody really knows or can predict precisely what problems have yet to occur.

  10. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks a lot Ellipsis,

    The idea that there will be a push to have some collisions when the VIPs show up on Oct. 21 sounds plausible. Probably no similar push for the string theorists, who will be there Aug. 18-23 for Strings 2008…

  11. DB says:

    It seems France and Germany are in a position to do some early celebrating: Albert Fert (from France) and Peter Gruenberg (from Germany) have just won the Nobel Prize in Physics for discoveries in magenoresistivity. Maybe String Theory will get it next year!

  12. Christine says:

    Congratulations to the Nobel prize winners and to the Brazilian physicist Mario Norberto Baibich, who was the first author to the 1988 paper.

    (I have the feeling that Brazil will never get a Nobel prize.)


  13. dragon says:

    The usual nobel for trivial advances in solid state. Yawn. Somebody nobody has heard of, together with somebody else nobody has heard of, discovered the ipod. Strong contender for the most forgettable Prize of recent times.

  14. Johan Couder says:

    “The usual nobel for trivial advances in solid state. Yawn. Somebody nobody has heard of, together with somebody else nobody has heard of, discovered the ipod. Strong contender for the most forgettable Prize of recent times.”

    Where does that cantankerous remark come from ? Theoretical physics isn’t the only physics game in town.

  15. Peter Orland says:

    Part of the function of the Nobel Prize is to put physics in context for
    the rest of the world. That may not have been one of its original purposes, but today it is the case. For this reason, I think it’s good that practical aspects of physics are put into the limelight. The public needs to be made aware that the practical devices they use originated in relatively recent physics research.

    The committee’s choice may not reflect the interests of the people who read this blog, but it certainly is real physics and is not forgettable.

  16. Peter Orland says:

    Just apologized for being off-topic in the wrong thread. I’m
    doing this here again….

  17. SnarkFest says:

    Yes, Dragon. Those “trivial advances in solid state” help pay quite a few bills for those of us with more esoteric interests. And need I mention yet again the cross-over between condensed matter physics and quantum field theory?

  18. Kris Krogh says:

    I’m happy they give Nobel Prizes for research with a demonstrable connection to the real world, and not for playing games that only generate lots of citations.

  19. srp says:

    Didn’t Marconi win it more as an inventor than a physicist? If anything, there may be too little credit given to the inventor types versus the academics–wasn’t that the crux of the dispute over the Medicine prize for MRI? In any case, device physics is real physics.

  20. Biff says:

    Unless I’m mistaken, the giant magnetoresistance phenomena that Fert and Grunberg discovered is rather more useful than a ‘trivial advance’.

    In fact it’s vital in most hard drives made today, including those used at the LHC. Or isn’t that sort of physics real enough for some of you ?

  21. mo says:

    It is completely OK to get a Nobel for an invention as Alfred Nobel’s will (see a larger excerpt below) explicitly says that a Nobel in physics should go “to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics.” I heard many times that it was a long-standing Nobel Committee’s policy to award the science prizes for outstanding work that resulted in tangible, practical advancement of sciences and useful arts.

    That’s why two most visible candidates for “genius” status, Hawking and Witten, never received the prize–and rightly so.

    “The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses. The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiological or medical work by the Caroline Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.”

  22. milkshake says:

    Nobel Commitee likes to award for narrowly-defined contributions that have a great impact. HEP theorists are naturally at disadvantage.

    Polarography got Heyrovsky a Nobel – a very simple-minded potenciometry experiment. (and a method for analyzing metal samples – not exceedingly useful one). It was the first completely-defined and understood system in electrochemistry – one that greatly boosted the self-confidence in the field. It also makes a good textbook chapter.

  23. Sebastian Thaler says:


    Off-topic, but the issue of COSMOS magazine with your cover story on string theory has finally appeared on the magazine stand at my local Barnes & Noble. I bought it and am looking forward to reading it.

  24. woit says:

    Thanks Sebastian. I just got a copy of the magazine in the mail, and I’m quite pleased with how the article came out.

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