Since two weeks Planck stands first of all for a satellite CMB observatory, but it's also the name for an annual series of conferences on physics beyond the standard model. This year's edition is taking place in the furnace of Padova. Since Tommaso is around, he will surely describe everything in great detail, including color of the tie of each speaker, while I should later write a summary of the interesting ideas discussed here in case there is any. But for now I'd like to share a handful of interesting facts about the progress of the LHC that I learned from a supercool talk delivered here by Jörg Wenninger. I guess most of what's below is not new and should be familiar to those closely following the LHC saga.
One interesting fact I was not aware of: a quench (a phase transition from superconductivity to normal conductivity) of an LHC magnet can be induced by just a few milijoules of energy. That energy may be provided by a bunch of strayed protons from the beam . To avoid quenching, LHC cannot lose more than a millionth part of its beam. For comparison, the Tevatron loses about one thousandth of its beam during acceleration. In that respect, Jörg was very convincing that the LHC would ever work ;-) But then, miracles do happen, sometimes.
Another interesting part of the talk was the explanation why the LHC will run at 10 TeV in the center of mass, instead of the nominal 14 TeV. The story goes as follows. Before installing, the LHC magnets have to be "trained", that is to say, to undergo a series of quenches to let their coils settle down at stable positions. After being installed in the tunnel they are supposed to come back to their test performance with no or few quenches. It turns out that the magnets provided by one of the three manufacturing companies need an extraordinary number of quenches to settle down. Although the company in question was not pointed at, everybody knows that the name is Ansaldo. In the case of that company, the number of quenches required for stable operation at 7 TeV per beam is currently unknown, it is probably somewhere between a hundred and a thousand. At the moment it is not clear if the LHC will ever reach 14 TeV; 12-13 TeV might be a more realistic goal.
The talk gave also a detailed account of the incident of September 19 known as the 9/11 of particle physics. Although the evidence has evaporated, one can quite reliably outline the sequence of events. An abnormally large resistance in one of the magnets acted as a heat source that quenched the superconducting cable at one interconnection. In case of a quench the current should start flowing or a few minutes through the copper bus-bar that encloses the cable until the energy stored in the magnet is removed. However, due to bad soldering of an interconnection the current could not flow normally and an electric arc was created. This melted copper, punctured the helium enclosure which led to spilling of 6 tons of helium into the tunnel. The logo of the company that made the faulty magnet is always erased in the pictures, although everybody knows that the name is Ansaldo.
So what's next? The repairs of the damaged sector are almost finished. The current plan is to head for collisions this year (with a caveat "depends how one defines collisions"). Beam commissioning is scheduled for September/October and the first collisions could happen in November. The schedule is very tight and, moreover, the quality control of has revealed problems like bad soldering or reduced electrical contact in a number of places, including sectors that are already cold. The rumor is that some of the LHC magnets in reality turned out to be electric kettles.
The slides here.