Up close and personal with the Large Hadron Collider

John Timmer, for Ars Technica:

Ohio State University’s Carl Vuosalo helped show us around the CMS, but first he had to shepherd us past higher security than I’ve ever experienced. To do so, he passed through a retina-scanning security system that simultaneously checked his weight (presumably to keep someone with a disembodied eyeball from making their way past the system). I passed it solely because of Vuosalo’s ingenuity. He opened a door meant for the delivery of equipment, slipping me through as if I was a UPS shipment.

Even though the LHC was shut down, the team made safety the highest priority. They lectured on protocol; they issued me a hard hat. The greatest risk of death at the LHC, as it turns out, is suffocation. Liquid helium (120 tons of it, along with another 10,000 tons of liquid nitrogen) cool the accelerator hardware, while many parts of the giant detectors rely on liquid argon to track particles through them. Either of those will happily convert to a gas if let loose from their containers. In addition, the fire suppression system could fill the entire chamber the CMS resides in with foam in under a minute.

It’s been said before, but the facilities built to support the research is one of the wonders of the world. It’s good to get a peek behind the scenes, and I can’t help but think that the working conditions are similar to those in the Death Star.