A date has finally been announced for the switching on of the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.
The LHC is located in a 27km-long circular tunnel that lies beneath the Franco-Swiss border. The first attempt to circulate a beam of particles around the tunnel will take place on 10 September, according to a Thursday statement by the LHC's builders, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern). This event will follow a long commissioning process that has seen the structure cooled down to 1.9° above absolute zero (-271°C).
"We're finishing a marathon with a sprint," said LHC project leader Lyn Evans. "It's been a long haul, and we're all eager to get the LHC research programme underway."
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 theorised 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 synchronisation test between the LHC and another machine, the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) 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.