Date set to fire up world's most-powerful particle accelerator

Large Hadron Collider, which sits in a nearly 17-mile-long circular tunnel that lies beneath the French-Swiss border, is set to start circulating particles next month.

David Meyer Special to CNET News.com
2 min read

A date has finally been announced for the switching on of the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.

LHC tunnel
Here is the superconducting radio-frequency cavity in the LHC tunnel. Maximilien Brice/CERN

The LHC is located in a nearly 17-mile-long circular tunnel that lies beneath the French-Swiss border. The first attempt to circulate a beam of particles around the tunnel will take place on September 10, according to a statement Thursday by the LHC's builders, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN.

This event will follow a long commissioning process that has seen the structure cooled down to 1.9 degrees above absolute zero (-27 degrees Celsius).

"We're finishing a marathon with a sprint," LHC project leader Lyn Evans said. "It's been a long haul, and we're all eager to get the LHC research program under way."

The particle accelerator was designed primarily as an attempt to produce the "Higgs boson"--a hypothetical particle whose observation would help confirm some of the predictions in the Standard Model of physics. Other currently theoretical particles may also be observed for the first time, including microscopic black holes--some people have theorized that this side of the project could go wrong with Earth-threatening results, a fear that CERN has comprehensively and repeatedly denied.

This weekend, the first synchronization test between the LHC and another machine, the Super Proton Synchrotron accelerator, will take place. A second test will take place in the coming weeks. According to CERN, the timing between the two machines "has to be accurate to within a fraction of a nanosecond."

If successful, the LHC will produce beams that are seven times more energetic than any previous particle accelerator. By 2010, CERN hopes to have the machine producing beams that are even more intense, at around 30 times the energy of previous machines.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.