What does it take to build the world’s largest particle accelerator? A circular 17-mile tunnel buried 300 feet underground. And a heck of a lot of booze.
“There were all these bottles of champagne in the control room. I thought we were going to become alcoholics,” recalls engineer Katy Foraz, one of four experts interviewed by Wired’s Emma Grey Ellis for “The Large Hadron Collider: An Oral History.”
The piece, in the magazine’s July issue, explains why so much celebration accompanied the construction of the collider, built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) with the help of thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world.
In 2008, just after the machine started up for the first time, there was a major problem.
No, it hadn’t opened up a black hole, as conspiracy theorists feared it might. But there was “one bad welding job out of 10,000,” explains Frédérick Bordry, director of accelerators at CERN, which is based on the French-Swiss border near Geneva.
“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 says.
“When the fire brigade went down there to assess the damage, the walls were frozen,” adds Foraz, the collider’s former head of planning.
So after a year of very expensive repairs, the team got going on Round 2.
This time, they set more incremental goals, which gave them more reasons to party. “With each step, we increased the energy of the beam,” Foraz says. “And then each week we would try again, and we would reach a new record and have more drinks.”
The strategy worked: Since March 2010, the Large Hadron Collider has been smashing high-energy particle beams together as scientists study the physics of the universe.
Cheers to that.