Cern scientists plan new atom collider

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Scientists behind the European atom smasher aimed at uncovering the secrets of the universe want to build an even bigger machine with partners and funds from around the world.

Scientists from CERN - the European Organisation for Nuclear Research - a particle physics laboratory outside Geneva, Switzerland, will spell out their ambitions at a conference in Paris today.

They are reaching out to China, India and Russia to help fund the next £8.5 billion step of the project, according to Guy Wormser, a leading particle physicist and one of the conference organisers.

Instead of whirling atoms in giant rings, as CERN's Large Hadron Collider and the smaller Tevatron at Fermilab, near Chicago, do, scientists want a new-generation machine that will shoot them straight.

The new machine would be a successor to the £7 billion LHC, which was launched with great fanfare in September 2008, but days later was sidetracked by overheating that set off a chain of problems.

CERN had to undertake a £26 million programme of repairs and improvements before restarting the machine last November. Since then the collider has reported a series of successes.

In March it saw the first collisions of two proton beams.

Plans for the next step, a 31-mile tunnel called the International Linear Collider, have long been under discussion and scientists now need to find funding, Mr Wormser said. They hope the machine could be turned on in 2020 or 2025.

With the LHC "we made a machine which allowed us to make a big leap in understanding, a sort of enlightener, and now we study and detail things and that's the linear collider", he said. "It's the future of our discipline."

Instead of crashing protons together, the new international collider will accelerate electrons and positrons, their antimatter equivalent, he said.

Depending on who wants to host it - and how much they are willing to pay - the ILC could potentially be built anywhere in the world.

The experiments of both machines are more about shaping our understanding of how the universe was created than immediate improvements to technology in our daily lives.

Scientists are attempting to simulate the moments after the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago, which they believe was the creation of the universe.

In March, the LHC produced a tiny bang, the most potent force on the tiny atomic level that humans have ever created.

Two beams of protons were sent hurtling in opposite directions toward each other in a 17-mile tunnel below the Swiss-French border - the coldest place in the universe at slightly above absolute zero.

CERN used powerful superconducting magnets to force the two beams to cross; two of the protons collided, producing seven trillion electron volts.

The latest results of those experiments will be presented at the International Conference on High Energy Physics, which is bringing 1,000 physicists to Paris this week.

Today Mr Wormser and other leading scientists would speak about their search for the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle - often called the God particle - that scientists think gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe.

The colliders also may help scientists see dark matter, the strange stuff that makes up more of the universe than normal matter but has not been seen on Earth.