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The experiment will hurtle two hair-thin beams of hundreds of trillions of protons around a ring-shaped accelerator at 99.99 percent the speed of light, knocking the beams together 11 000 times each second. According to CERN LHC accelerator physicist Rüdiger Schmidt, who is in charge of machine protection systems, each unimpeded beam is capable of melting a 500-kilogram block of copper.
Even the slightest malfunction could lead to a catastrophic accident, so CERN has spent nearly two decades devising an interlocking system of fail-safes. One of these is a method of safely purging a proton beam, which has a higher chance of becoming unstable the longer it is whipped around the circular accelerator. Every 10 hours the accelerator gets fresh beams. But first the old ones are dumped into specially designed absorbers called beam dump blocks.