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You thought untangling the rat’s nest of cabling behind your computer was pain? That’s nothing compared to what scientists at CERN are dealing with as they prepare for the Large Hadron Collider’s (LHC) next big upgrade. A team of 60 engineers is currently digging through the innards of several of the LHC’s particle injectors to identify 9,000 obsolete cables to make room for new equipment.

CERN has admittedly not always been good about taking out old cables, and that has left little room for new components, and it’s time to clear some space. The old cables are mostly associated with the Proton Synchrotron Booster (PS Booster), the Proton Synchrotron (PS), and the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS). These machines accelerate protons before sending them into the LHC. Years of upgrades and maintenance have led to a tangled mess of cables that no longer serve a purpose (some up to 50 meters in length). The cables mostly deal with control and safety systems dating back to the early years of CERN; many of the instruments predate the LHC by decades.

If this sounds unpleasant, it really is. CERN’s Sébastien Evrard admits that it has been hard to motivate people to accomplish this soul-crushing task, but the clock is ticking. The LHC is only offline for a few months in winter, and this is delicate work that shouldn’t be done when the array is operational. If the wrong cable is disconnected, the researchers could lose data or the LHC might go into failsafe mode and stop working.

lhc cables

The goal is to get all the unused cabling removed in time for the next long shutdown in 2019. At that time, the instrument will get a significant upgrade that requires the installation of a lot of new cables. Hopefully these ones will be properly labeled to make future maintenance easier.

So far, the team has identified 2,700 of the 9,000 obsolete cables that are believed to exist in the three instruments. Evrard believes they will be able to find 8,000 of them before the LHC comes back online, which should make it feasible to get all the cables out of the way when the time comes for installing new cables in 2019 and 2020.