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Boffins riot as Hadron Collider upgrade is delayed

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Budget cuts are forcing international science alliance CERN to postpone upgrades to the most potent particle-punisher currently operated by the human race - the subterranean Large Hadron Collider (LHC) outside Geneva. CERN has also been compelled to temporarily shut down other accelerators, and has seen "protests" from boffins and support staff threatened by the cuts.

"The plan... is firmly science-driven," said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer in a statement issued on Friday. "It reduces spending on research and consolidation through careful and responsible adjustment of the pace originally foreseen in a way that does not compromise the future research programme unduly. The reductions will be painful, but in the current financial environment, they are fair."

As all regular Reg readers will know, the LHC - following lengthy startup troubles - is now up and running with beam energies of 3.5 tera-electron-volts (TeV), half the design maximum of 7TeV. Following an unfortunate electric burnout blast incident and related, devastating helium superfluid explosion mishap which crippled the mighty collider for months after its initial startup, engineers have decided that it would be unsafe to turn up the Big Knob past 3.5TeV until massive upgrades can be carried out.

As the present 3.5TeV redline still allows 7TeV collision energies quite sufficient to broach a positive barrel of whup upon the ass of the previous record-holding atomsmasher - the limp-wristed 1TeV Tevatron in the States - CERN boffinry chiefs had always intended to postpone the necessary work until 2011, so as to get some data for their mighty supercomputing grids to crunch. This would also avoid the risk that rival boffins at the Tevatron, despite the relatively puny power of their machine, might nonetheless steal a march on the LHC to discover the long-sought Higgs boson (aka "the God particle").

As a result, it has long been planned to shut down the LHC throughout 2012, allowing replacement of the potentially explosion-prone copper busbars throughout and readying the great machine for 7TeV beams and unprecedented 14TeV collisions - ones so incredibly violent as to replicate the outrageous conditions seen when the entire universe was still packed down into an unfeasibly small subatomic compass in the period immediately after the Big Bang.

This will still happen.

However, it was also planned to hook up an additional linear accelerator to pack more hadrons into the LHC's beams and so create many more collisions, and thus more shattered hadron debris, for boffins to sift through in search of the elusive deiton or other finds. This will not now take place until 2016. Furthermore the other, less well-known accelerators at CERN will also be shut for 2012 alongside the crowd-pleasing LHC.

The president of CERN's ruling Council, Michel Spiro, commented: "[The] Council is grateful for the pragmatism and the realism of the CERN management in proposing real cost savings in time of crisis."

Not everyone at CERN was quite so chuffed with Heuer and his fellow bigwigs' plans, however. Reuters reports that disgruntled boffins "staged a protest" against the cuts at the Franco-Swiss atomsmasher facility last month.

Obviously concerns that the LHC might destroy the world, unleash some form of interdimensional portal invasion etc are baseless, so there's relatively little chance here of angry scientists barricading themselves in the control room and demanding one beeellion dollars from the world's governments under threat of immediate planetary black-hole implosion or similar.

However, the world may care to take heed of the much more realistic danger implicit in having crowds of CERN boffins loosed upon the world without atomsmashers to keep them occupied. Famously Tim Berners-Lee, who was supposed to be doing particle physics at CERN at the time, invented the World Wide Web in an idle hour.

In that case the consequences were no more serious than global devastation of the porn and news industries. But things could be a great deal worse this time. ®

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