What Does it Take to Build the Super Collider?

What supplies do you need to build the world’s biggest particle accelerator? 17 miles of tunnel, a hole 300 feet deep, and a whole lot of champagne. “There were all these bottles of champagne in the control room. I thought we were going to become alcoholics,” told engineer Katy Foraz to Wired for the feature article “The Large Hadron Collider: An Oral History.”

Available in the July issue, the article discusses what all the celebration was about after CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, built the collider near the French-Swiss border and with the aid of a team made of thousands of international engineers and scientists.

However, when the massive machine was first activated in 2008, it encountered a significant issue. While a black hole didn’t form like detractors feared it might, “one bad welding job out of 10,000,” described the director of accelerators Frédérick Bordry, set the whole project back.

“Because of a bad connection between two magnets, one ton of liquid helium, the coolant we use on the magnets, was released into the tunnel,” he said.

“When the fire brigade went down there to assess the damage, the walls were frozen,” adds Foraz, the collider’s former head of planning.

After a year of extensive and expensive repairs, CERN attempted to bring the particle collider online a second time. However, instead of a single large celebration at the end, this time incremental goals were set with a party after each one was achieved. “With each step, we increased the energy of the beam,” Foraz said. “And then each week we would try again, and we would reach a new record and have more drinks.”

In the end, it was a success as the Large Hadron Collider has been continuously in operation since March of 2010, smashing particle beams for physicists ever since.

And that’s something to which we can all raise a glass.

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