Experts want bigger banger

2010-07-26 11:10

Paris - Scientists behind the European atom smasher aimed at uncovering the secrets of the universe don't want to stop there - they want to build an even bigger machine with partners and funds from around the world.

Scientists from Cern, a particle physics laboratory outside Geneva, will detail their ambitions at a conference in Paris on Monday.

They are reaching out to China, India and Russia to help fund the next €10bn ($12.85bn) 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 (LHC) 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 $10bn 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 $40m 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 50km tunnel called the International Linear Collider, have long been under discussion, and scientists now need to find funding, 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," said Wormser. "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, he said.

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 theorise was the creation of the universe.

God particle

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 27km tunnel below the Swiss-French border - the coldest place in the universe at slightly above absolute zero (-273.15°C).

Cern, or the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, 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 from July 22 to 28.

On Monday, Wormser and other leading scientists will speak about their search for the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle - often called the God particle - that scientists theorise 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.