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British contractors sought for Swiss particle collider upgrade

Large Hadron Collider tunnel

British consultants and contractors are being urged to get involved in a technically complex £650M-plus upgrade of wold’s largest and most powerful particle collider at CERN in Switzerland.

The High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC) project aims to crank up the performance of the Large Hadron Collider that first began operating in 2009.

The project will involve creating two new shafts and two new 300m long service tunnels to connect into the 27km long, up to 175m deep circular tunnel that forms the core of the collider.

Construction of the original collider proved hugely challenging with unexpected ground conditions and water ingress a particular problem. The new works will have an added complexity in being carried out while live experiments continue, meaning vibration during excavation and tunnelling activities must be minimised.

CERN civil engineer John Osborne has urged UK companies to bring their expertise to the project.

The original collider was a pan-European effort, with UK designers Knight & Piesold, Gibb and Brown & Root and UK contracting expertise from Amec and Taylor Woodrow.

“Amec and Taylor Woodrow have been here before. The LHC civil works were very similar back in 1998 to 2005 but on a larger scale. We are really hoping to encourage UK companies to tender,” Osborne told New Civil Engineer.

Osborne explained that there is a strong UK presence at CERN. As a country the UK was a founding member in 1954 and Brits have held a number of high ranking positions over the years, with the last two director generals both being British.

Tender documents for detailed design and project management roles are to be issued soon and expressions of interest from civils contractors will be sought in the New Year.

The High-Luminosity LHC project was announced as the top priority of the European Strategy for Particle Physics in 2013 and its funding is enshrined in CERN’s medium term plan. Without it the collider will rapidly diminish in value to the scientific community.

The objective is to increase luminosity by a factor of 10 beyond the LHC’s design value.

Luminosity is an important indicator of the performance of an accelerator: it is proportional to the number of collisions that occur in a given amount of time. The higher the luminosity, the more data the experiments can gather to allow them to observe rare processes. The High-Luminosity LHC, which should be operational by 2025, will allow precise studies of the new particles observed at the LHC, such as the Higgs boson. It will allow the observation of rare processes that are inaccessible at the LHC’s current sensitivity level. For example, the High-Luminosity LHC will produce up to 15 million Higgs bosons per year, compared to the 1.2 million produced in 2011 and 2012.

Its development depends on several technological innovations. The first phase of the project began in 2011 with the HiLumi LHC design study, which was partly financed by the European Commission’s seventh framework programme. This first phase brought together many laboratories from CERN’s member states, as well as from Russia, Japan and the US.

The design study came to a close on 31 October with the publication of a technical design report, marking the start of the construction phase for the project at CERN and in industry.

CERN will devote 950M Swiss Francs (£650M) over a period of 10 years to the development of the High-Luminosity LHC.

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