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Powering the Large Hadron Collider

When the LHC starts up tomorrow, it will draw twice the power of nearby Geneva

3 min read

9 September 2008—The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), set to start up tomorrow, is the largest physics experiment in history, and it’s probably the most power hungry. Spanning the border between Switzerland and France, the 27-kilometer accelerator ring with its accompaniment of radiation-hardened integrated circuits, feeder accelerators, computers, and supercooled superconducting magnets will, according to varying estimates, draw between 220 and 300 megawatts of electricity—enough to power the city of Geneva twice over. Keeping the power flowing reliably takes a good bit of ingenuity, as a sudden loss of power could mean serious damage to the machine and months of lost work.

Once all of these accelerators are fully operational in 2009, CERN’s estimated annual electricity consumption could approach 1000 gigawatt-hours, IEEE Spectrum learned on a visit to the lab in July. The massive LHC will account for about 60 percent; less than 15 percent of the total will go to mundane functions like keeping the lights on; and the other accelerators in the complex will account for the rest. A big part of the consumption is the hundreds of enormous superconducting magnets, though they draw much less power than equivalent conventional magnets would. The superconductors must be cryogenically cooled to temperatures between 1.8 and 4.5 kelvins (colder than outer space). If the temperature creeps even a fraction of a kelvin above that, the magnets stop working and lose control of the beam. An uncontrolled beam can melt 500 kilograms of copper in an instant, causing serious damage and halting the experiment for months. So it is crucial to keep power flowing into CERN at all times.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
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A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar
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You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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