CERN’s Engineers Have Their Work Cut Out For Them

February 12, 2016 by Tim Youngblood

CERN's engineers have to replace 45 kilometers of cable, it will be quite the undertaking.

Never a dull day at the world's largest super collider.

The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest machine is undertaking a massive wire replacement operation that will take 4 years. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN will have to replace 9,000 cables, and it’s going to take years to replace all of them. Each cable is 50 meters long, so CERN’s engineers are going to be replacing over 450,000 meters of wire, that’s 450 kilometers or roughly 280 miles. As CERN has upgraded the LHC over the years, their engineers left the old cables which are no longer in use. These obsolete cables are now blocking the implementation of newer cables that can handle the power demands of a machine that accelerates particles near the speed of light. The removal will also make room for more powerful data transferring cables as they make advancements in the 3D sensors used to detect subatomic particles at incredible speeds.


A close up of the ATLAS detector


Normally a job like this would take only a few months, but CERN has a unique dilemma. The wires need to be identified first, and due to the complexity of Large Hadron Collider, CERN’s engineers have to be precise. A minor miscalculation could lead to a major problem, the worst case scenario being the machine itself being unable to operate. Sebastien Evrard, the mechanical engineer leading the replacement project said this about the situation in an interview with Vice’s Victoria Turk:

“That’s why it’s so tricky to complete this operation—because any mistake could start major trouble at the restart of the accelerator”

Some of these cables have been around since CERN was established in 1954. Although CERN keeps a database of all of the cables used and their function, there are discrepancies. Evrard also spoke to that in the interview:

“From the experience we’ve got in the past few weeks, we can say that about two percent of the cables that were expected to be obsolete are in fact still in use.”


This photo from CERN shows some of these decrepit old wires that need replacing


Although the thought of such discrepancies in a machine that can generate enough power to open new dimensions may sound sketchy, CERN’s engineers have assured the public that this will not lead to any of the catastrophes that some think could occur if the particle accelerator were to malfunction. Including but not limited to; sucking the world into a black hole, summoning the Hindu Goddess Shiva, or destroying the entire universe. Although most of these theorists seem equally concerned about the machine functioning correctly. No matter the day, there's always something interesting going on at CERN!

  • jlachance February 19, 2016

    Is it just me, or is that photo of a wiring rat’s nest unsettling?  Looks like something Larry and Curly put together and Moe inspected and approved!  Somehow I expected it to be tidier, just because it is CERN.

    Very interesting article, though!  Thanks for the insight!

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    RobertDoell February 20, 2016

    CERN is a money pit! They have spent billions and gotten little in scientific returns of consequence. True they trillions of data returns but have not changed anyones understanding of physics. Who designs a cutting edge machine with 50 year old components which can compromise data or functionality. Intelligent people don’t do that, Government money grant rats do.

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      aromring February 20, 2016
      Well, why do we have World Wide Web (a.k.a. The Internet) today? Thanks to CERN. Who invented the touch screen? The CERN. Why do we have so much better cry-engineering today? Thanks to CERN. There are more examples, like rapid advances in data processing technology, computer hardware and software, etc. With these returns on investments, I would gladly pour money into such "money pit".
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