Baguette 'dropped by bird' causes LHC disruption

The Large Hadron Collider was hit by crouton torpedo when a rogue piece of bread caused an electrical system failure
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

A piece of bread dropped on an outdoor electrical installation on Monday caused disruption to the world's largest particle accelerator, according to Cern.

A Cern spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Friday that the research facility believes the bread — a baguette — had been dropped by a bird.

The spokesperson said the bread, which was "naked and unfilled", had caused a short circuit when dropped on an electrical installation that supplies energy to the massive experiment. While the bird was unconfirmed as the definite culprit, it had been spotted beforehand near the substation carrying bread, said the spokesperson.

The short circuit caused a power failure which affected a quarter of the 27km Large Hadron Collider (LHC) circuit, said the spokesperson. Due to the power cut, Sectors 7-8 and 8-1 had warmed up by three degrees Kelvin (K).

The LHC, which is out of action after a short circuit last September, had been cooled to its operating temperature of 1.9K before the power failure.

The fault had been rectified and the LHC re-cooled to 1.9K, or -271°C, by the end of Thursday, said the spokesperson.

The Large Hadron Collider, which straddles the border of France and Switzerland near Geneva, will become partially operational in the new year. When fully operational, the machine will smash beams of protons into each other in an effort to better understand the fundamental nature of matter, and to search for an elusive scalar elementary particle called the Higgs boson.

Protection systems put in place following a short circuit in September 2008 had reacted to the power cut, said the spokesperson. Had a particle beam been circling the machine, the energy of the beam would have been dumped into graphite blocks encased in concrete. Similarly, an improved quench protection system, installed since last year's short circuit, would have dumped some of the energy stored in the affected sectors of the machine.

Since its first major power-up on 10 September 2008, the LHC has suffered a few setbacks which have halted or slowed its work. In February 2009, physicists Holger B Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya speculated in a paper that accelerators producing large amounts of Higgs particles in the future would in effect halt present attempts to find the particles by permanently scuppering those accelerators, making it impossible to ever detect a Higgs boson.

The Cern spokesperson said on Friday that it was "highly unlikely" a future Higgs boson was foiling present attempts to discover it.

"In my opinion, nature will tell us how nature works," said the spokesperson. "There's no reason to think that the Higgs boson will be easy to find. I have an open opinion, but it's highly unlikely [that Higgs is self-cancelling]."

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