In The Field

The Big Bang Breakfast

Posted on behalf of Alison Wright, Chief Editor of Nature Physics.

I’m so excited I can hardly type. I’m just back from the ‘Big Bang Breakfast’, organized in Westminster by the UK science funding body STFC, to celebrate the start-up of the LHC.

Over tea and sausage sandwiches, physicists and media representatives watched this morning’s events unfurl, live from CERN. Just after 8:30am, the first flash of a monitor showed the beam had entered the 27-km ring, ready to be coaxed through each of the eight sectors of the machine in turn.

It was edge-of-the-seat stuff (certainly if you’re a particle physicist, and, I confess, I am). Twenty minutes later, the beam was half-way round and through one of the detectors, CMS. “They’ve got tracks!” The none-too-hushed whisper ripped round the hall like, well, a proton in an accelerator…

They made it look easy (although, believe me, it isn’t). Sector after sector, the beam sailed through. The breakfasting physicists couldn’t quite believe how well it was going — the previous CERN accelerator had laboured 12 hours to circulate its first beam. I needed more tea.

Now the beam was through another detector, LHCb, which was reporting signals too. The last sector, through the ATLAS detector, awaited. A text message from a friend in the ATLAS control room: “All power just went green”. This is it.

Lyn Evans, LHC project leader and our capable MC at CERN, directs everyone to watch for two flashes on the monitor — one for the beam going in, one for it completing the lap of the collider. And there they are, less than an hour from injection, two flashes of light marking the first circulation of beam and the beginning of an epic experiment. There’s applause, and I want to cry. More tea, I think.

Now we’re clustered round a laptop as the first signals come through from ATLAS. This project, this LHC and its detectors, has been 20 years in the making. There’s delight — and palpable relief — among the physicists: no one could have dreamed this start-up would happen so smoothly.

I raise my cup of tea to the LHC!


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