World's largest atom smasher put into "technical stop"

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A technician walks under the core magnet of the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN (Centre Europeen de Recherche Nucleaire) in the French village of Cessy, near Geneva March 22, 2007.

GENEVA, Dec. 18 -- The world's most powerful atom smasher has been put into a "technical stop" to make preparations for higher energy particle collisions next year, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) said on Friday.

"The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has now been put into standby mode, and will restart in February 2010 following a short technical stop to prepare for higher energy collisions and the start of the main research program," the Geneva-based agency said in a statement.

Housed in a 27-kilometer, circular tunnel at the Swiss-French border near Geneva, the giant machine was designed by scientists to unlock many secrets of the universe by recreating the conditions immediately after the Big Bang which happened some 13.7billion years ago.

That can only be done by colliding two beams of particles circulating in opposite directions at close to the speed of light.

The machine was first started on Sept. 10, 2008, but suffered a serious malfunction only nine days later. A successful restart was made on Nov. 20.

"Over the last two weeks, six LHC experiments have recorded over a million particle collisions, which have been distributed smoothly for analysis around the world on the LHC computing grid," said the CERN statement on Friday.

CERN Director-general Rolf Heuer said the first running period of the LHC "has served its purpose fully."

"We could not have asked for a better way to bring 2009 to a close," he said.