Atom-smasher investigation could give findings this week

Geneva - An investigation into technical problems with the world's largest atom-smasher could produce its preliminary findings this week into why it had to be shut down.

"Investigations should help us in the coming days to understand better what happened," said James Gillies, a spokesman for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was shut down last Thursday owing to a fault with its cooling system.

Scientists managed to restart it again last Friday, only for it to break down later in the day. Repairs will be carried out on the machine, which will take at least two months.

The LHC is the 27-kilometre (16.9-mile) circular tunnel in which parallel beams of protons accelerate close to the speed of light.

It aims to resolve some of the greatest questions surrounding fundamental matter, such as how particles acquire mass and how they were forged in the "Big Bang" that created the Universe some 13.7 billion years ago.

Counter-rotating beams, comprising strings of protons, are whizzed around the tunnel and then are smashed together in four huge laboratories.

Arrays of detectors swathing the walls of these chambers trace the sub-atomic rubble spewed out from the collision, looking for signatures of novel particles.

An inauguration ceremony scheduled for October 21, which French President Nicolas Sarkozy was set to attend, will now be delayed.

Gillies said the LHC wiil be out of action for "at least two months". The machine took nearly 20 years to complete and cost six billion Swiss francs (3.76 billion euros, 5,46 billion dollars).

Friday, November 14th 2008

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