40km tunnel will try to unravel secrets of universe

Details of a giant machine for discovering the secrets of the universe were revealed yesterday by scientists who believe the massive device could revolutionise how we understand the cosmos.

Details of a giant machine for discovering the secrets of the universe were revealed yesterday by scientists who believe the massive device could revolutionise how we understand the cosmos.

An international panel of particle physicists has decided that the high-energy linear collider - a £3bn machine for smashing matter against antimatter - will use revolutionary superconducting technology to shed light on the origin and nature of the universe. Plans for the International Linear Collider have still to be finalised but scientists hope that construction of the underground machine will begin in six years.

The collider will be housed in a dead-straight tunnel up to 40km long. It will set a precedent by becoming the first truly globally owned instrument built by all the major countries of the world.

By colliding pencil-thin beams of electrons and positrons - the antimatter equivalent of electrons - scientists believe they will be able to answer some of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the universe, said Neil Calder, director of communications at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre in California.

"In the last 10 years there has been a revolution in our concept of the universe and the realities of our new knowledge are very much stranger than could be have been imagined," he said.

Last year, physicists accurately measured for the first time how the universe is composed. They found that only 4 per cent of it was made up of visible atoms, with the rest being mysterious dark matter and dark energy - neither of which entities can be seen.

"The implications of this new understanding are enormous. We and everything we can see with our most powerful instruments make up only 4 per cent of the universe," Dr Calder said. "We are a tiny minority. The rest is waiting to be discovered... The linear collider is the key to understanding this weird and wonderful universe that we inhabit," he said.

Professor Brian Foster of Oxford University said that the linear collider will be fully integrated with existing atom smashers such as the Large Hadron Collider currently being built at the Cern high-energy physics centre in Geneva.

"The linear collider will take our science into completely new areas which will hopefully reveal new and exciting physics, addressing the 21st century agenda of compelling questions about dark matter and dark energy, the existence of extra dimensions and the fundamental nature of matter, energy, space and time," Professor Foster said.

Professor George Kalmus of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire said that the linear collider was needed because existing atom smashers could only take the understanding of sub-atomic physics so far.

"We're at a point where we understand a great deal of how the world is put together, but we certainly don't understand it all, such as what is the origin of mass," said Professor Kalmus, who is a member of the international panel which decided on the technology to be used in the linear collider.

Professor Kalmus said that when quantum mechanics was first discussed 80 years ago by scientists such as Albert Einstein, no one could have predicted that this esoteric area of physics would eventually form the basis of all modern microelectronics. "When we understand things at a deeper level, which we will with the linear collider, we get an insight into other areas," he said.

Spending £3bn on a single machine would almost certainly generate practical spin-offs, although no one at this stage can predict what these would be, Professor Kalmus said. "If we could foresee what will come out of this, the case for building it would be easy to make," he said.

Germany, Japan and the United States are leading contenders for the site of the new machine. Millions of pounds are being spent on researching the technology of the linear collider but a final decision on whether to go ahead and build it is not likely for another three or five years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot