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Large Hadron Timewaster

No collisions till October at earliest

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The CERNocrats have decided it will be another few months before they can restart the world's biggest scientific money-smashing machine, the Large Hadron Collider.

The 17-mile underground money pit on the Swiss-French frontier will restart in September with a few Hadrons colliding in October, after which a Christmas shutdown will delay any more collisions until 2010.

The LHC has consumed around £4bn so far. A faulty electrical connection caused a £20m repair bill when the so-called largest machine in the world was switched on last September, possibly a record in the largest bucks for the smallest bang stakes. At the time, physicists predicted an early 2009 switch-on.

The idea of the LHC is that bits of atoms are smashed together to break into smaller bits of atoms to help us understand the origins of the universe.

It seems that, like fractals, which are infinitely complex at whatever scale they are examined, there will always be smaller bits of atoms inside the current smallest bits you are looking at. All you need is an ever-bigger hammer to deconstruct them and the LHC is just a waystation on the path to the ELHC (Even Larger Hadron Collider).

Physicists say they are on a noble quest to understand the fundamental structure of matter - but does it matter? At a cost of £4bn and counting as physicists look for ever smaller bits of things, how long will it be before fundamental research disappears up its own? ®

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