Seven remarkable days

This has been a truly remarkable seven days for CERN. Things have moved so fast that it has sometimes been hard to separate fact from fiction – all the more so since facts have often seemed too good to be true.

It’s been a week of many firsts. Monday was the first time we’ve had two captured beams in the LHC. It’s the first time the LHC has functioned as a particle accelerator, boosting particles to the highest beam energy so far achieved at CERN. And it’s been a week in which we’ve seen the highest energy proton-proton collisions ever produced at CERN: our last hadron collider, the SPS was a proton-antiproton collider, a technically simpler machine than the LHC. This week’s successes are all the more remarkable precisely because of the complexity of the LHC. Unlike the SPS collider, it is two accelerators not one, making the job of commissioning nearly twice as difficult.

I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks and congratulations to all those who have done such a great job in bringing the LHC to life this week, and to all the unsung heroes who worked solidly for 14 months to bring us from the dark days of late September last year to where we are today. It has been a herculean effort, with no fewer than five distinct phases: repair; consolidation; hardware commissioning; preparing for beam; and finally operation. All deserve equal merit.

The final phase has been highly visible, and widely reported around the world, but without phases one to four it would not have been possible. One of the remarkable successes of the LHC start-up this year has been the cryogenic system. With all the excitement of beam this week, it would be easy to overlook the fact that the LHC has been stably cold, almost without a glitch, since 8 October. That alone marks tremendous progress since last year.

The new magnet protection systems have also been a revelation. The faulty connection that failed on 19 September had a resistance of 220 nano-Ohms. Today, we can measure the splice resistances and monitor them continuously to less than one nano-Ohm. That is reassuring to say the very least.

To accomplish all this, teams from CERN rolled up their sleeves and worked tirelessly to get the job done. They were joined by people whose help was spontaneously offered, from partner labs and institutes around the world. My sincere thanks go to all of them.

While the eyes of the world are again on the LHC, there are a few more groups of people that I’d personally like to acknowledge. In the CERN control centre, there are four islands. One is for the LHC, the others control and monitor the technical infrastructure of CERN, the PS complex and the SPS. For the LHC to work, all of them have to be working smoothly, and they were. In the 50th anniversary week of the PS, that is no mean achievement. The injector complex even managed to take lead ions all the way into the LHC at the first attempt, boding well for the end of the 2010 run. And in a separate control room at point 4, the ‘RF guys’ put in a sterling effort to capture beams from the word go, and to accelerate at the first attempt.

Last but not least there are all the other services that have to come together to make things work: the GS department for access and safety systems; HR and FP for showing great flexibility in time of need; and SC for diligently ensuring that all safety aspects are fully covered, to name but three. All in all, the LHC is a magnificent team effort.

It’s been a great week, but it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. The achievements of this week are fantastic, and those that went before deserve equally as much recognition. However, we have to remember that there is still much work to do before the LHC physics programme begins. From now to the end of the year we have some intense systems commissioning ahead of us so we can deliver good intensity beams to the experiments for calibration purposes. Then we can look forward to taking the energy up in 2010 and starting the real physics. This has been a great beginning, but the best is yet to come.

Steve Myers, Director for Accelerators and Technology

The first LHC status report was held at CERN on 26 November 2009. Presentations and video are available here.