Atom smasher gets go-ahead

A £10bn programme will recreate Big Bang with which the universe starte d

Europe's science ministers yesterday committed themselves to a £10bn programme of fundamental scientific research into the ultimate constituents of sub-nuclear matter.

At a Geneva meeting, the member states of Cern - the European Laboratory for Particle Physics - agreed to build a huge atom-smasher or particle accelerator, known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It will be capable of re-creating conditions close to those of the Big Bang. Construction will take 14 years and cost Sfr2.6bn (£1.3bn).

The decision will make Europe pre-eminent in fundamental physics for the next couple of decades, because the LHC will be the largest and most sophisticated machine of its type. Last year American scientists had to abandon similar plans to build an accelerator in Texas when the US Congress refused funding.

Since Cern costs Sfr1bn a year to run, yesterday's agreement means the Europeans are committed to spending more than Sfr20bn over the next 20 years.

The new accelerator will be housed in a circular tunnel 27 kilometres in circumference, deep underground, straddling the Franco-Swiss border just outside Geneva. Although expensive, it is essentially a cut-price machine because it will piggy-back on top of an existing machine, known as Lep. The tunnel was deliberately made large enough to accommodate both machines.

The LHC will accelerate protons, nuclei of hydrogen, the simplest of all the atoms, to speeds approaching those of the speed of light. It will then collide two counter-rotating beams head on. At ultra-high energy, the fireball created by the collisions will re-create conditions close to those of the Big Bang with which the entire universe started.

At these high energies, scientists believe, the fundamental forces and constituents of matter behave more simply than in the everyday world. By studying the debris of the collisions, they hope to understand the most fundamental forces governing the physical universe.

The physicists hope the LHC will produce a particular type of particle known as the Higgs Boson. This may hold the key to understanding why there are such things as massive bodies (such as people, stars and planets) in the universe at all, instead of everything being as insubstantial as a ray of light.

Professor Chris Llewellyn Smith, the British Director General of Cern, welcomed the decision to build the LHC: "I believe this to be a unique commitment to fundamental scientific research. Today's decision has assured a great future for world particle physics."

The machine will be built in two stages. A lower energy version will be constructed to be operational by 2005. After three years, it will be upgraded to the full energy. However, if the USA and Japan decide in the interim that they would like to contribute (allowing their scientists to make use of the machine) then progress will be reviewed in 1997.

A decision could be taken then to go to the full energy by 2005. Construction will be funded out of Cern's existing budget.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

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
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn