Thursday, April 7, 2011

From 2008: First LHC Circulating beam

I wrote this essay Sept 11, 2008: the day after first beam at the LHC.

Reflections on a great day

Wednesday [September 10, 2008] was a remarkable day for the accelerator-based physics programs of the world. Certainly, CERN is the primary beneficiary, but every other facility that has accelerators benefits enormously, too. Fermilab, Brookhaven, Thomas Jefferson Accelerator Facility (a.k.a.CEBAF) in the US; KEK in Japan, etcetra, etcetra.

CERN proved (and is continuing to prove) that big, complicated, new physics programs can work if you have the right mixture of engineers, physicists, politicians and support people, who are willing to work hard, and to work well, together. The complexity of the LHC is, by any measure, truly astounding. I would love to write many pages about some of these complexities, but I am having too much fun on my little bit of completxity right now. That they/we have begun to show that this is really possible is so much fun!

The feeling in the CCC at CERN is euphoric. No one was really sure that we could actually pull this off. The Director General of CERN had great khutspa to invite the media of the world to CERN to watch us succeed. It is not like we were launching a space ship, where its success or failure is obvious to anyone. He trusted us, and the fabulous media people at CERN and elsewhere (especially Fermilab) to get the message out in a way that people can understand.

As an example, when I got to my Swiss apartment on Wednesday evening, there was a report on the Swiss/German station on the LHC success. One of the German-speaking physicists I know gave the interview. I couldn't understand any of it (aside from the occasional word or two), but it was clear that it was a glowing report! Then we changed the station to the Swiss/French station and saw a different group of reporters and a different group of (French-speaking) physicists extoling the achievements of the day. (I understood a bit more of that one.) Then we changed to the Swiss/Italian station--same thing/different folks! Wow! When we sat down to supper, #3 son suggested we turn on the TV to see if other coverage was on,and there on CNN was the American report!

And the hits just keep on coming. The achievements of Wednesday were well documented. But the progress made yesterday and today were (to the experienced observer) equally (if not more) significant. They went from having the protons go around three times to "100+" times to having them stay in with essentially no losses for 10 minutes (early this (Friday) morning). No losses!! This is amazing! The number of pieces that have had to work to make this happen is huge--some people estimate that there are around 100,000 components that all have to work for the system to work. For example, we were all worried about the RF systems, but they stepped up to the plate and connected--they captured the beam in the RF today, a critical part of the 10-minute proton storage.

By the time I got in for the scheduling meeting this morning, they had even tried to scan the wires (my little bit of complexity). Fortunately, it didn't work, since I was not there. :-) We got the wire scanning in short order.

At this meeting, one of the scientists pointed out that they could not measure the lifetime of the stored beam since it didn't last long enough to let the beam diminish enough to get that measurement. That brought a euphoric chuckle from the other folks in the meeting!

The international nature of this effort is wonderful, and it is the only way any sort of big science can be done from now on. Germans, Italians, French, Spanish, British, Polish, Russian, Austrian, American, Canadian, Indian and Belgian scientist and engineers working together, usually in (not quite) perfect harmony. Our fathers and grandfathers were killing each other, damnit!! Now we sharing a coffee or a beer, and joking about our national character (Americans are cowboys, Germans are engineering geeks, French demand that we have 2-hour lunches every day, the Brits can't stand talking about football any more, and the Swiss are gun-toting, organizing, clean-freaks).

Fermilab Director, Pier Oddone, spoke elequently about this international cooperation in his remarks during the Fermilab "Pajama Party" Wednesday morning. Oddone pushed for the LHC@FNAL Operations Center to be a centerpiece of this philosophy. They tell me that 400 people were at that party--wow!