Engineers complete world’s largest scientific instrument

March 1st, 2008 - 11:16 am ICT by admin  

Geneva, March 1 (IANS) Engineers have lowered a 9.3-metre wheel down a 100 metre shaft to complete what has been described a the world’s largest scientific instrument - a nuclear particle accelerator that will run around a 27 km long tunnel deep under the Swiss-France border. The accelerator has been built by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, popularly known by its French acronym CERN, as part of a 20-nation collaborative exercise and is expected to begin functioning this summer.

Eight other countries and institutions, including India, the US and Israel, have observer status in the ambitious project that was kicked off in 2003.

India has supplied key equipment for the project and dozens of its engineers from several scientific institutions have been working at the site where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - christened ATLAS - is being built.

“This is an exciting day for us. The installation process is coming to its conclusion and we are gearing up to start a new programme of physics research,” Marzio Nessi, ATLAS technical coordinator, was quoted as saying in a press release issued by CERN Friday.

CERN’s new collider, estimated to cost $2 billion, became the hope of scientists seeking insights into the nature of matter and the origins of the universe after the US stopped construction on a major collider in Texas in 1993, citing financial constraints.

The 100-tonne piece lowered Friday to complete the ATLAS jigsaw is called the small wheel - the final element in the ATLAS muon spectrometer that sits in a gigantic underground cavern.

The wheel joined another of similar size, both of which are covered with sensitive detectors to identify and measure the momentum of particles that will be created in the LHC collisions.

The entire muon spectrometer system contains an area equal to three football fields, including 1.2 million independent electronic channels. As particles pass through a magnetic field produced by superconducting magnets, this detector has the ability to accurately track them to the width of a human hair.

“These fragile detectors comprise the largest measuring device ever constructed for high energy physics,” said George Mikenberg, ATLAS muon project leader.

“One of the major challenges was lowering the small wheel in a slow motion zigzag down the shaft and performing precision alignment of the detector within a millimetre of the other detectors already in the cavern,” said Ariella Cattai, leader of the small wheel team.

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