The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's biggest physics experiment, was all set to start up a few months ago - its miles of underground tunnels would provide answers to deep physics questions about the nature of everything from atoms to black holes. And then it broke. Big time. Six tons of ultra-cold liquid helium spilled into one of the tunnels after an electrical failure. Now Nature reports that repairs will cost $21 million, and the vast facility hasn't even gone online yet. Can a shrinking global economy support the LHC? With some of the world's richest companies slashing budgets and hunkering down for a slow-growth year in 2009, it's hard to avoid the question, "Is the LHC really worth it?" Though the facility will advance scientific understanding of the universe immeasurably, it will provide no short-term economic benefits. Discoveries made when the accelerator goes live could mature into devices that change our everyday lives in ten years, or in two generations, or never. So it's easy to see why the LHC is pulling back on estimates about when it will actually start the experiments. Originally reps for the facility estimated that repairs would be finished and the LHC would come online in April. Now they're claiming June at the earliest. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't get to celebrate the LHC's first real experiment until 2010, but let's hope not. $21 million is a small price to pay to unlock the secrets of the universe. LHC Repairs Get Pricier [via Nature]

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