A million minutes to rebuild the Large Hadron Collider

By Michael Brooks (Image: Maximillen Brice/CERN) IT WOULD be easy to hate this place. It is decrepit and grey, and feels overwhelmingly like a neglected university campus.The fact that the March sky is the colour of damp concrete and releasing sleet that barely falls does not help. During my long tramp across the sprawling CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, it seems to slap into my face like a cold, wet mop. Then there’s the irksome way CERN’s buildings are numbered. There is no discernible system. Once they’d found building 217, finding the Higgs boson must have been a walk in the park. I could get excited by the fact that somewhere beneath my feet is the Large Hadron Collider – except that there are no particle beams whizzing around its gigantic tunnel. No data is being gathered in preparation for an announcement that will thrill the world. CERN has no magic today: it’s just grim. Until, that is, I meet its people. You could be forgiven for thinking CERN’s work is done. After all, the Higgs boson has been found, and the machine that nabbed it has been sitting idle since mid-February. But the place is still buzzing. In a million minutes’ time, come February 2015, the LHC will start up again, revamped and raring to go. Last year, running at an energy of 7 tera-electronvolts, it saw the Higgs boson. When it restarts, it will be capable of more than 13 TeV. Or at least that’s the plan. “There’s a lot to do before then,” says Mike Lamont. He has a slightly distracted air,
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