updated 11/17/2009 2:34:08 PM ET 2009-11-17T19:34:08

The Sept. 19, 2008, failure of the Large Hadron Collider is costing 40 million Swiss francs ($40 million) to fix and it set back experiments for more than a year. But the world's largest atom smasher has lesser hiccups to contend with:

  • On Nov. 3 electricity from a substation was knocked out briefly to part of the superconductor refrigeration. Although no damage resulted, the scientists would have lost one day for sending beams of protons around the collider had it been running. CERN said feathers and baguette crumbs found at the scene indicated a piece of bread dropped by a bird caused a short-circuit in the substation. "The bird escaped unharmed but lost its bread," CERN told its employees. "The incident was similar in effect to a standard power cut, for which the machine protection systems are very well prepared."
  • Last month France arrested a nuclear physicist who had been working part-time on the LHC, suspecting him of involvement with Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a North African group that targets Algerian government forces and sometimes attacks foreigners. CERN has said there was nothing at the collider of interest to terrorists and that none of its research has the potential for military application and all its results are public.
  • Some skeptics have expressed fears the high-energy collision of protons could imperil the Earth by creating micro black holes — subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars. CERN and leading physicists dismiss the fears.
  • Two scientists — Holger Nielsen of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute and Masao Ninomiya of Kyoto's Yukawa Institute — have written a paper suggesting that making more than a few Higgs bosons could shut down the LHC.

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