2008 was a horrible year for the Large Hadron Collider. Just nine days after an extremely successful, highly publicized start-up on September 10th, when hundreds of reporters gathered at CERN to follow the protons as they ventured sector by sector to manage a full turn of the 27 km ring, a stupidly crafted electrical connection failed in sector 3-4 of the machine. This brought above criticality a superconducting solenoid, vaporized six tons of liquid helium, and damaged 53 expensive magnets in the sector with a powerful blast.

From a public-relation point of view, amassing a huge firing squad of reporters who knew next to nothing about the LHC project until then, coalescing like a giant focusing lens the eyes of the media around the world on the uneventful walk of proton beams around the ring, was a huge success for just one week, but it then clearly became a failure of gigantic proportions. The event would have stayed a huge success if things had ran smoothly for a while, but "LHC" still meant something to the billion of people who had been exposed to the startup event, when news about the blast made it around the world.

The damage has resulted in a delay of exactly one year in the schedule of the LHC and the four experiments waiting to take data along the ring. One year might not look like a tragedy for a project whose first technical design was laid out twenty years ago. However, if you are one of the physicists who worked full time at the construction of those monstrous detectors, hoping year after year that soon you would finally get a chance of analyzing the amazing collisions that the accelerator produced, and seeing the start of data taking being moved further without end, the setback is really awful. And if you are one of the Ph.D. students who counted on producing a thesis worth something with real data in their graphs, this may configure as a catastrophic event for your career.

Worse still: the CDF and DZERO experiments at the Fermilab Tevatron, the glorious 2-TeV proton-antiproton collider in operation since 1987, are collecting data at a steady pace, and are producing one groundbreaking result after another. Those who have been investing most of their career in building detectors that could discover the Higgs boson at the LHC have now reason to fear that the trophy will be collected there, while they will be watching powerless from the gallery.

But things seem to finally be back on track. Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN, issued today a statement which I wish to paste here, because it seems to finally spell good news for the LHC, for high-energy physicists worldwide, and in general for all of us who love science regardless of what language is spoken by the next Nobel prize winner.

Here are a few excerpts of Heuer's message:

The 53rd and final replacement magnet for CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was lowered into the accelerator's tunnel today, marking the end of repair work above ground following the incident in September last year that brought LHC operations to a halt. Underground, the magnets are being interconnected, and new systems installed to prevent similar incidents happening again. The LHC is scheduled to restart in the autumn, and to run continuously until sufficient data have been accumulated for the LHC experiments to announce their first results.
[...] With all the magnets now underground, work in the tunnel will focus on connecting the magnets together and installing new safety systems, while on the surface, teams will shift their attention to replenishing the LHC's supply of spare magnets.

In total 53 magnets were removed from Sector 3-4. Sixteen that sustained minimal damage were refurbished and put back into the tunnel. The remaining 37 were replaced by spares and will themselves be refurbished to provide spares for the future.
[...]systems are being installed to monitor the LHC closely and ensure that similar incidents to that of last September cannot happen again. This work will continue into the summer. Finally, extra pressure relief valves are being installed to release helium in a safe and controlled manner should there be leaks inside the LHC's cryostat at any time in the machine's projected 15-20 year operational lifetime.

CERN is publishing regular updates on the LHC in its internal Bulletin, available at http://www.cern.ch/bulletin, as well as via twitter and YouTube at http://www.twitter.com/cern and http://www.youtube.com/cern.
It only remains for me to say that despite my sound strategy of betting on both horses until now, I am now really starting to root for the LHC to start delivering what it has promised us. You have to know that I belong both to the CDF collaboration at Fermilab and to the CMS collaboration at CERN, and although most of my research time has been devoted to CMS during the last few years, my heart has been beating for CDF for so long that I cannot really help wishing that glorious experiment all the successes it deserves. But enough is enough: LHC has been a huge investment, and it is time to see whether we have made the right choice!