Who switches on the LHC?

Rende Steerenberg is in charge of the Operations teams, who today are back in the CERN Control Centre as the LHC is turned on with beam for the first time in 2017 (Image: Sophia Bennett/CERN)

Rende Steerenberg is affectionately known around CERN as the man who pushes the button to restart the LHC, but he is emphatic that this isn’t the case.

“It’s not just my job, and it’s not just one button,” he grins, after hearing the accolade. Rende’s real job title is leader of the Operations group – a team that make sure the LHC and the accelerator chain, together with the technical infrastructure, are running smoothly.

Today, the Large Hadron Collider restarted after almost five months of maintenance and upgrades. And the reason Rende (rightly) claims it’s not just one button, is because starting up the LHC requires a slow process of switching on each individual part of the accelerator chain in turn, until it gets to the final, biggest machine. 

Control Centre,Life at CERN
“I did a lot of Alpinism before the kids were born. It’s quite dangerous so I stopped once they were around, but we still go hiking with them in the mountains a lot,” says Rende Steerenberg, who runs the Operations group at CERN. “Like in my private life, in our daily work we have to take responsibility for our actions.” (Image: Sophia Bennett/CERN)

“To get things done here you have to run the accelerator but you can’t work alone. There are many people working day and night to run the accelerators. And you have to be in contact with the Proton Synchroton operator, who has to be in contact with the SPS or the Booster operator, and if something is not right they all have to work together.”

Giving credit where it’s due is crucial to Rende’s role as a manager, and something he enjoys so much he believes that even if he hadn’t ended up in a science role, he’d have been in management somehow, working in a team.

“As the Group Leader I have to manage the group and the resources and make sure everything can work, that people have the right tools, hiring, etc. It all takes a lot of my time. But I’m still very closely involved in the running of the machines, discussions about increasing the performance of the injectors, producing brighter beams, increasing the LHC’s integrated luminosity, it’s all still part of my job, which is fortunate as that’s a very interesting part of it too.” – Rende Steerenberg speaking about managing the teams who meet in the CCC shown above (Image: Sophia Bennett/CERN)

The operations teams work in shifts at CERN’s Control Centre (the CCC), where each corner of the room is an island of computer screens devoted to a specific machine. It’s in the CCC that the social, team-building nature of Rende’s group becomes clear.

“My favourite bit of my working day is coming into the CCC in the morning. I scan through the logbooks over breakfast but then I come in and listen to the people who run the machines about how the night went. What were the issues, and the successes?” shares Rende.

“It’s a hugely well-functioning dynamic, people bring pasta to night shifts!” – Rende Steerenberg

For him, it’s made even more enjoyable when it’s a point of shift turnover, when different people are passing through the CCC. Working in shifts, seeing people bring in shared pasta dishes to sustain them through long nights, is what Rende, among other things, thinks gives the team such a well-functioning dynamic.

“It’s a different life in a control room to working in an office. If we had an argument, you might hide in your office, me in mine and one of us would call and say, ‘Can we discuss it again over coffee?’ But that might take days. In the control room that can’t happen, you have to meet up the next night when no-one else is around, you have to sit next to each other and you have to work out issues in the same island. It’s a special atmosphere, more family like.”


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