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Monica Dunford | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

The Power of the Beam

I wonder if the people working on the LHC accelerator fully realize the sheer power they hold over the entire high energy physics community. The ability to inflict mental anguish on thousands of people in the experiment communities with the tiny little phrase, ‘The LHC turn-on has been delayed.’ This week at CERN there have been meetings of two major administrative bodies: the Scientific Policy Committee and the CERN Council. If there is going to be a schedule change in regards to the turn-on date of the LHC, it will be made here.

For the whole week, it has felt like the entire scientific community at CERN is holding one collective breath. Waiting. Waiting. For that potential bad news of a scheduling delay. The meetings have passed. There have been no announcements of a scheduling change and now you can feel that breath being slowly exhaled. Just a little.

The annoying thing about schedules is that they generally only move one way. And there is a lot of nervous energy floating around in CERN about whether or not the beam will hold to the current schedule of next year. It is not that the detector people distrust the beam people. It is just that it is a big machine, with tons of little but important parts. Tons of places where things can go wrong. We understand why the schedule would slip. Doesn’t mean we have to be happy about it.

On my thesis experiment, SNO, life was easier. We measured neutrinos produced in the Sun. The beam was always on. And if it did turn off… Well, the world had much bigger problems. In SNO, the detector was all that you had to worry about.

Within the groups that I work, the feeling is similar. The detector is the focus. And the beam will just one day magically appear. I find that most people tend not to discuss the beam schedule but it is always present, unspoken in everyone’s mind. There is this thought, mostly dormant, that says, ‘what if we are ready and the beam is not? How long will we have to wait?’ Granted the beam people probably think the same thing. Only in reverse. ‘What if these detector people who are constantly nagging us about the schedule aren’t even ready when the beam turns on?’

With a machine so complicated, scheduling delays are to be expected. A month here. A month there. We could use the extra time for the detector. But what about a catastrophic failure? A year delay. Or even more. That fear can be felt, lingering occasionally in the hallways. No matter how much reassurance the CERN council can provide about the schedule, that nervous energy will always remain until the beam is running. Only until the first time two protons collide inside the detector will that collective breath finally be released.

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