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Just another ordinary day in the office as Big Bang experiment begins

Managing director Colin Woolger with some of the magnetic shields made by his company in Staplehurst. Photogaph by Matthew Walker
Managing director Colin Woolger with some of the magnetic shields made by his company in Staplehurst. Photogaph by Matthew Walker

As millions feared the imminent destruction of the planet on Wednesday, it was just another day at the office for staff at a Staplehurst factory which helped get the Big Bang experiment up and running.

Magnetic Shields in Headcorn Road, which has just 40 employees, supplied shields to protect vital instruments in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

That is the vast machine buried deep beneath Switzerland, which was built to help physicists uncover some of the secrets of how the universe was created.

It has been designed to smash together tiny sub-atomic particles at almost the speed of light, in order to recreate the conditions which existed fractions of a second after the Big Bang.

One possible side-effect feared by a few scientists and millions of members of the public around the world, was that the machine could create a black hole that would swallow the Earth.

The machine cost £4.4 billion, involved 10,000 scientists and took 14 years to build.

Shortly after 8.30am on Wednesday the switch was thrown and the experiment began, with no apparent ill-effects.

Magnetic Shields’ managing director, Colin Woolger, said: “I am sure you would like to say that we were all sitting around at 8.30am waiting, but for us it was just another ordinary day. We supply these things all the time so it is nothing unusual.”

He added: “We are very pleased to be associated with the new LHC experiment. On this huge project we have associations at many levels.

“For many years we have supplied shields to the research institutes and universities designing this massive project.”

The company is currently working on the specifications for some very large shields for an experiment that will come online when the LHC reaches its full capacity in about a year’s time.

It is not the first time the firm has been involved in a high-profile project. Two years ago it manufactured the full shield for UK Astronomy’s new infra-red telescopes, at one of the world’s top astronomical labs in Hawaii.

Mr Woolger added: “Magnetic shielding is a vital part of modern particle physics since it allows scientists to study only the effects they are interested in while shielding out various external factors such as the earth’s natural magnetic field and interference from other equipment in the proximity of the experiments.”

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