Scientists at the largest particle accelerator in Switzerland have recently put forward plans for an even more massive supercollider.
The goal is to uncover previously unknown particles that could potentially transform the field of physics and provide a deeper comprehension of the workings of the Universe.
If given the green light, the upcoming machine will be three times bigger than its colossal predecessor.
However, the cost of £17bn has caused concern, with one detractor calling it “irresponsible”.
Some experts have raised concerns about the economic viability of funding the initial construction cost of the project, which would be covered by member nations of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern), including the UK.
In 2012, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) made a groundbreaking discovery by detecting a previously unknown particle known as the Higgs Boson. However, the pursuit of two elusive goals in physics – understanding dark matter and dark energy – has proven to be quite challenging. As a result, some researchers are considering more cost-effective alternatives.
The latest addition to the scientific world is the Future Circular Collider (FCC). Cern’s director general, Prof Fabiola Gianotti, expressed her excitement about the potential approval of the machine, describing it as a remarkable creation.
“It is a tool that will enable humanity to take significant strides in answering fundamental questions in physics and expanding our understanding of the Universe. “And in order to accomplish that, we require a more robust tool to tackle these inquiries,” she stated.
Cern is situated on the border of Switzerland and France, in close proximity to Geneva.
The LHC is made up of a massive underground circular tunnel that spans an impressive 27km in circumference. It propels the inside of atoms (hadrons) in both clockwise and anticlockwise directions to speeds nearing the speed of light, and at specific locations, collides them together with greater force than any other atom-smasher in existence.
Scientists can gain valuable insights into the composition and behaviour of atoms by studying the smaller, sub-atomic particles that remain after collisions.
Expanding upon a groundbreaking revelation
The supercollider’s discovery of the Higgs Boson particle over a decade ago was truly revolutionary.
In 1964, the brilliant Scottish physicist Peter Higgs made a groundbreaking prediction about a fundamental building block that shapes all other particles in the Universe. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that this elusive particle was finally discovered at the LHC. This discovery completed the puzzle of the existing theory of sub-atomic physics, known as the Standard Model.
The plan is to construct the larger FCC in two phases. A groundbreaking development is set to revolutionise the field in the mid 2040s, as scientists plan to collide electrons together. Scientists are eagerly anticipating the potential for a significant increase in energy, which could lead to the generation of a substantial amount of Higgs particles for further examination.
The second phase is set to commence in the 2070s, demanding the utilisation of even more powerful magnets, surpassing the current state of technology. In the pursuit of discovering novel particles, scientists are turning to heavier protons instead of electrons.
The FCC will be significantly larger than the LHC, measuring an impressive 91km in circumference and twice as deep. The depth needs to be increased in order to shield the surface from the more intense radiation produced by higher energies.
So what’s the reason behind the need for a larger hadron collider?
The LHC, with a staggering price tag of £3.75 billion, has been in operation since 2008. However, it has not yet made any breakthroughs in uncovering the elusive particles that hold the key to understanding 95% of the universe.
Scientists continue to investigate two significant mysteries in the realm of astrophysics. One of these mysteries involves a force known as dark energy, which behaves in a manner contrary to gravity. Dark energy is responsible for the expansion of galaxies and the increasing distance between celestial objects. Another intriguing topic is dark matter, which remains elusive as it evades detection, yet its existence is inferred through its gravitational effects.
“There is a significant piece of information that we are overlooking,” Professor Gianotti informs us.
According to her, the FCC is necessary as it could potentially unveil a more comprehensive understanding of the workings of the Universe through the discovery of these mysterious particles.
Over two decades ago, numerous researchers at Cern made predictions about the discovery of enigmatic particles by the LHC. It was not successful.
Some sceptics, like Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder of the Frankfurt Institute of Advanced Studies, express doubts about the potential success of the new collider.
“Particle physics is a research area that has received significant funding due to its historical roots in nuclear physics. However, there is a need for it to be scaled back to a more manageable size, perhaps around one-tenth of its current magnitude,” she stated.
According to Prof Sir David King, a former UK government chief scientific advisor, spending £17bn on the project would be considered “reckless”.
”In light of the global challenges posed by the climate emergency, perhaps it would be more prudent to allocate these research funds towards creating a sustainable future.”
Furthermore, particle physicists themselves are engaged in a lively debate regarding the most optimal choice for a colossal circular collider.
According to Prof Aidan Robson of Glasgow University, a straight-line collider would be more cost-effective, as reported by BBC.
“There are three key benefits.” Firstly, a linear machine can be constructed step by step. According to the speaker, there are a couple of factors that would affect the cost and timeline of the project. Firstly, the initial stage would be less expensive. Additionally, the tunnel itself is shorter, allowing for a quicker completion.
However, the FCC is the option that Cern favours and it is currently assessing the response to its proposal from its 70 member nations, who will be responsible for funding the new machine.