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Wednesday, October 15 12:00 AM ET

Large Hadron Collider Out of Atoms

By Michael Paszkowski

Geneva, Switzerland - The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest machine and was built over 20 years at a cost of billions. It is now lying idle, for want of its smallest moving part - atoms.

"It's extremely embarrassing," one senior source said on condition of anonymity. "The Collider can only use a particular type of atom from just one company, and they have chosen not to deliver at this time. We are negotiating with them and hope to come to a speedy resolution."

We tracked down the supplier, Will & Jesse Mining Co., to their Ozark compound. One of the founders, Jesse Armstrong, was willing to speak.

"We've supplied atoms to CERN since they first started," says the tall, heavily-bearded joint owner when we spoke in his office. Through the open window, the mine is visible and his partner, Will 'Grizzly' Adams can be seen hard at work, extracting the vital atoms and carefully placing them in the sealed containers that will carry them to labs all over the world. "The fact is, we're just not happy with what they're doing over there now. I don't want anybody saying the end of the world was caused by an Ozark atom."

The atoms found in this region are the smallest and smoothest yet found in nature, and are ideal for the high speeds and extreme conditions inside the LHC. Low-grade atoms cannot be substituted as they will damage the delicate machinery and give less accurate measurements.

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"Until we get those atoms, the LHC will remain inactive," says our informant. "We've offered them more money. We told them the energies involved could not possibly have any catastrophic effect on the planet. We showed them how, if a microscopic black hole was created, it would instantaneously evaporate rather than sink into the core of the Earth and devour it from within. But still no atoms."

"It's not a complete loss, though," said the engineer, indicating the idle scanning equipment. "It gives us plenty of time to work on our anomalous materials research."

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