The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is an international collaboration platform for particle physics research, which seeks to understand the fundamental forces of nature at the most basic level of matter. Often this knowledge is the basis for decisive changes in technology, from the discovery of electricity to the invention of the World Wide Web.
“A little-known fact is that the Internet was invented at CERN,” says Thomas Bottlang, VAT/CERN Project Coordinator. “But the research at the facility focuses primarily on the study of the basic constituents of matter – the discovery and research of fundamental particles. This work has driven innovations in medical imaging and cancer treatments, manufacturing processes and information technologies. Just to name a few areas.”
CERN operates a research complex consisting of several accelerators, the most powerful of which is the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), the world's largest and most powerful particle collider and the largest machine in the world. The LHC is housed in a ring 27 km (17-miles) in circumference and buried over 100 m (330-feet) underground. The high precision detectors in the LHC record data generated when two beams of infinitesimally small particles travelling at close to the speed of light in opposite directions inside the LHC collide together – almost replicating conditions of the Big Bang. Because of its immense size and power, the LHC now enables scientists to gather data from the highest-energy collisions ever observed.
The LHC complex works under ultra-high vacuum (UHV) conditions that minimize any beam interactions with residual molecules. The individual beam pipes within the LHC are divided in several vacuum sectors that are isolated by vacuum sector valves from VAT. These VAT sector valves seal off individual sectors of the accelerator during service and maintenance work or, for example, to repair a leak within a specific sector without compromising the vacuum in the other sectors of the LHC.
“For over 50 years, VAT specialists have collaborated with CERN physicists and engineers,” explains Thomas Bottlang. “In particular, on the vacuum valves that are part of the process to maintain the vacuum needed for experiments carried out on the LHC.”
Among the vacuum valves used for the operation of the LHC, VAT's all-metal valves stand out in particular. Due to the special temperature and radiation conditions in the LHC, elastomer-sealed valves degrade in a short time. All-metal valves are therefore the valves of choice. They close metal on metal, or in technical terms, "hard on hard". While normal hard on hard closing systems allow a relatively limited number of closing cycles. VAT all-metal valves offer a closing technology that allows "elastic" closing, thus allowing a higher number of closing cycles for the demand.
“Why is the research being carried out at CERN fundamentally important – and fascinating?” asks Thomas Bottlang. “Ponder this surprising and even shocking statistic: visible matter makes up just 5% of our universe. Figuring out what the other 95% really is – known cryptically only as ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ – will help us understand how the universe works – and what may happen in the future.”