CERN scientists who work with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) (photo © Julian Herzog) announced that operations have started to reactivate the largest particle accelerator in the world. In February 2013, the LHC was switched off in what was called “Long shutdown 1” (LS1), needed to upgrade some of the equipment and perform other maintenance tasks.
The LHC consists of a complex set of very sophisticated equipment. For example, in addition to the main accelerator there are other secondary ones which are still important. In fact, they’re crucial for some initial operations such as to strip electrons off the hydrogen atoms to get protons to use in the experiments or to give these particles the initial acceleration required to the experiments .
A set of equipment such as the LHC can’t be reactivated by simply flipping a switch, especially after a year of maintenance and upgrades. In some cases, some worn parts were simply replaced but in others new technologies were introduced that have heavily modified some machinery.
It’s for these reasons that each machine must be tested and tuned carefully to check for it to work properly before being connected to other equipment to avoid any risk of damage. A system as complex as the LHC requires seamless integration of all its parts to operate at the very high energies that will be possible after the updates.
The first tests concerned the equipment that strips electrons off the hydrogen atoms and according to the first reports they were unsuccessful. These operations will go on for the rest of the year and slowly some experiments at CERN will be able to resume their research using secondary accelerators.
The reactivation of the LHC is scheduled for the beginning of 2015, of course if the operations will go on without serious problems. If all goes well, the LHC should finally be able to reach the energy of 14 teraelectronvolts, the maximum possible for this accelerator. At that point, it will be possible to achieve new breakthroughs in the understanding of some of the secrets of the universe.