What a machine!

After becoming the world’s highest energy particle accelerator, the LHC is now making progress in commissioning stable beams and providing more collisions at the four points for several hours at a time. For the first time, beams have circulated with more than one bunch of protons, thus increasing the intensity.


Nothing is really ordinary when one operates a prototype: ups and downs are possible, adjustments are certainly necessary and a reasonable amount of time is needed to understand the system’s behaviour. The LHC is no exception. With all its achievements since it was switched on a few weeks ago, it has made the headlines in the world’s press several times. The first beams circulated smoothly, the first low-energy collisions happened very quickly, and the first ramp up to record energy was exceptionally good.

Since then the focus has been on increasing the number of protons in the circulating beams. In the first tests, the operators used a ‘pilot’ beam, containing only one bunch of protons, but on the evening of Friday, 4 December, a beam circulated with more than one proton bunch for the first time. Then, in the early hours of Sunday morning, operators succeeded in circulating four bunches in both directions around the LHC and announced stable beams.

During the following days, work focussed on making sure that each step towards higher intensities can be safely handled and that stable conditions can be guaranteed during collisions first at 450 GeV and then at 1.18 TeV per beam. On the evening of Tuesday, 8 December, two bunches per beam circulated for the first time at 1.18 TeV for a short period and ATLAS recorded its first collisions at the record energy of 2.36 TeV (centre of mass).

Over the same period, cryo-experts have intervened a few times to correct some parameters, vacuum experts have quickly repaired some imperfections in the pre-injector chain and operators have injected and dumped the beams to test the behaviour of the various components of the machine and to measure its performance – which is proving to be excellent.

With four bunches per beam and more protons per bunch, the LHC is providing more and more collisions and all six experiments are recording as much data as possible. During the stable beam periods, they can gather a great deal of useful information about their sub-detectors as well as about the whole chain from collisions to data distribution and analysis. On 28 November, the ALICE collaboration submitted its first paper based on the reconstruction and analysis of the 284 collision events at 450 GeV per beam. The results of the ALICE study are consistent with measurements performed by previous experiments, in particular with those at the SPS when it worked as a proton-antiproton collider with the same beam energy as the LHC in this first phase of commissioning.

Over the final few days before the LHC turns off on 16 December, the operators will continue to increase the beam intensity, delivering further good quantities of collision data to the experiments before Christmas.

When the LHC starts up again in 2010, the operators will aim at gently increasing the intensity and energy of the beams until the planned 3.5 TeV for each beam is reached, marking the beginning of the physics programme.

Power cuts – no need for a shock
Power cuts can happen at CERN just as anywhere else. There’s nothing unusual about them and they are really not something that worries the accelerator operators. True, some power cuts, such as the one that occurred at 1.10 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 December, can cause delays in the schedule. For the record, it was caused by a short circuit in the main power cable on the Meyrin site.

The power cut affected all the accelerators on the Meyrin site (PS, Booster and the injectors, etc.) as well as part of the Computer Centre and momentarily plunged the entire Meyrin site into darkness. The diesel back-up for the secured power network then kicked in, supplying power to all the safety systems on the site and to the main part of the Computer Centre. The standby teams were on the job within 30 minutes and a few hours later the network was once again up and running using a secondary power line.

CERN has one of the densest distribution networks in Europe and experiences the same level of power cuts as the public electricity distribution network. The existing work schedule of the EN/EL Group, which is in charge of CERN’s electrical installations, includes plans to renovate some of the installations in order to reduce the number of power cuts.


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by CERN Bulletin