To Take On China, Europe Is Designing A New Particle Collider

In a move intended to match growing Chinese ambitions in particle physics, the development of a particle accelerator three times larger than the Large Hadron Collider that confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson is being contemplated by CERN, the European nuclear physics research organization.

Design studies for a new circular super-collider that would be between 90 to 100 kilometers long have been started by the organization, said Fabiola Gianotti, CERN’s director general.

Currently the world’s highest energy particle accelerator – CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, measures 27 kilometers.

Considered one of the most important discoveries in particle physics in decades, the collider is famous for finding the Higgs boson in 2012. The particle helps explain how the visible universe holds together.

A electron-positron circular collider twice the size of the LHC, which smashes protons together, would be liked to be built by Chinese scientists. China would eventually expand it into an even bigger proton collider after building this initial accelerator. But when the Chinese government opted not to fund the collider in its 2016 five-year plan, initial plans to start construction in 2021 suffered a setback. The research team will now to need to wait until 2020 to apply again.

The effort is controversial. China, as a still developing country, could not afford the project, which is expected to cost as much as $6 billion in its initial phase, argued Chinese-born physics Nobel winner Chen Ning Yang, a U.S. citizen.

She welcomed the Chinese proposals, said Gianotti, who is the first woman to head the European nuclear research agency. “I think it is very good to have competition,” she said. “It is very good to have different regions of the world that are interested in fundamental physics and consider that the outstanding questions today in particle physics are worth building the next generation particle collider.”
The chances that both CERN and the Chinese would actually complete construction of their massive projects would be unlikely, said Gianotti. “I don’t think the world can afford two such colliders,” she said, adding it was important to “optimize” available scientific expertise and financial resources for the sake of advancing science.

“There is no point having two similar accelerators,” she said.

The CERN had not yet produced cost estimates even through it has begun initial planning for its own massive super-collider, she said. The case for alternative proposals, such as a high-energy electron and positron accelerator known as the Compact Linear Collider or for its 100-kilometer ring could be helped made by the growing interest from China, Gianotti said. a review of Europe’s particle physics strategy in 2019 would be the venue to decided which project CERN will pursue, Gianotti said.

The relationship with China was described as being collaborative as well competitive by Gianotti. On the international advisory panel for China’s electron-positron accelerator there are three CERN scientists. Gianotti plans to travel to China next year for further talks and said that discussions had taken place about strengthening CERN’s work with China.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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