After more than a year's delay, Europe's much-heralded Large Hadron Collider - the world's largest particle accelerator - is due to be restarted in November. A severe leak of liquid helium from a magnet that caused a crack in the huge facility's tunnel and was a major setback has been repaired.
The project of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) under the Swiss-French border is aimed at taking the next great step to understanding the makeup of the universe through what is described as "the biggest physics experiment in history."
Prof. Giora Mikenberg of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot is the head of the Israeli team of professors, students and technicians who have taken part in the project, although in a relatively minor role. Now they are certainly biting their fingernails in anticipation of a successful restart.
The project, on which 10,000 scientists have spent the last 16 years, aims at bashing together at mind-boggling speeds the tiny particles that make up the universe, so scientists can observe the extreme energies, mini-black holes and other phenomena that occurred during the first millionths of a second after the Big Bang, the mother of all explosions, in which all we know was created.
All of the thousands of participants ultimately hope that the findings will help explain the foundations of particle physics, what gives mass to the electron and the basic forces and building blocks of Nature.
Prof. Barak Kol, a leading theoretical physicist at the Hebrew University's Rakah Institute for Physics, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that "it is too early to be disappointed. I thought the helium leak would take only a few months to repair, but it has taken longer because this experiment is at the far edge of human ability. It is a huge effort never attempted before."
Every breakdown, Kol continued, takes a long time to fix, because the very cold temperatures needed for the magnets to work have to be raised over months, and then they have to be cooled down again.
Kol, who as a theoretician was not involved in preparing the project but is eager to work on the resulting data, dismissed the recently published theories of theoretical physicists Holger Nielsen of Denmark and Masao Ninomiya of Japan that the findings could be so "abhorrent to Nature" that these forces are coming back to stop their own creation. The pair have focused on the mysterious Higgs Boson particle and raw material of the universe that the collider teams want to discover.
According to their hypothesis, the particle will "ripple backward through time" and halt the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. Nielsen has even said that their theories could supply a "model for God" who "rather hates Higgs particles and attempts to avoid them."
But Kol doesn't believe Nature or God is working against the project's success. "There are counterintuitive things that are true, but this is not one of them. The project is so complex that things almost have to go wrong. When the Titanic sank, no one decided God or Nature was against it and that no more transatlantic ships should be built," he insisted.
The HU physicist added that the autumn and winter are not the ideal time for work, as electricity costs are very high when temperatures drop in Switzerland. "CERN used to close down in winter because of the extra expense," he said, but that it not holding back the restart of the project.