CERN approves plans for a $23 billion, 62-mile long super-collider

RJM Corbet

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The aim is to learn more about the elusive Higgs Boson particle.

CERN has approved plans to build a $23 billion super-collider 100 km in circumference (62 miles) that would make the current 27 km 16 teraelectron volt (TeV) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) look tiny in comparison. The so-called Future Circular Collider (FCC) would smash particles together with over 100 TeV of energy to create many more of the elusive Higgs bosons first detected by CERN in 2012. This “Higgs factory” would be key to helping physicists learn more about dark matter and other mysteries of the Standard Model of physics.

“Such a machine would produce copious amounts of Higgs bosons in a very clean environment, would make dramatic progress in mapping the diverse interactions of the Higgs boson with other particles and [allow] measurements of extremely high precision,” the CERN council wrote in a press release.
In a new development strategy paper, CERN emphasized that its current priority is to complete a “high-luminosity” upgrade of the current LHC with high-field superconducting NbSn magnets. This would create many times more collisions than the LHC can now, boosting the chances of seeing Higgs bosons and other rare particles.

The future collider would be built in two stages. The first iteration would smash electrons and positrons together to maximize production of Higgs bosons so that scientists can get more accurate data on the particles. The second version would be a 100 TeV proton-proton collider designed to generate new particles that could expand on or even replace the Standard Model.

The aim is to start construction of the new tunnel by 2038, but there’s one massive hurdle: money. The new project is so expensive that CERN will need to seek funding outside its EU member state nations. Instead, it might need to create a global organization that includes the US, China and Japan.

It could be a hard sell, especially as the new collider wouldn’t have as clear a goal as the LHC did ...


Following almost two years of discussion and deliberation, the CERN Council today announced that it has updated the strategy that will guide the future of particle physics in Europe within the global particle-physics landscape. Presented during the open part of the Council’s meeting, held remotely due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the recommendations highlight the scientific impact of particle physics, as well as its technological, societal and human capital.

By probing ever-higher energy and thus smaller distance scales, particle physics has made discoveries that have transformed the scientific understanding of the world. Nevertheless, many of the mysteries about the universe, such as the nature of dark matter, and the preponderance of matter over antimatter, are still to be explored. The 2020 update of the European Strategy for Particle Physics proposes a vision for both the near- and the long-term future of the field, which maintains Europe's leading role in addressing the outstanding questions in particle physics and in the innovative technologies being developed within the field.

The highest scientific priorities identified in this update are the study of the Higgs boson - a unique particle that raises scientific profound questions about the fundamental laws of nature - and the exploration of the high-energy frontier. These are two crucial and complementary ways to address the open questions in particle physics.

“The Strategy is above all driven by science and thus presents the scientific priorities for the field,” says Ursula Bassler, President of the CERN Council. “The European Strategy Group (ESG) – a special body set up by the Council – successfully led a strategic reflection to which several hundred European physicists contributed.” The scientific vision outlined in the Strategy should serve as a guideline to CERN and facilitate a coherent science policy across Europe ...


The 2020 update of the European strategy for particle physics (ESPPU), which was released today during the 199th session of the CERN Council, sets out an ambitious programme to carry the field deep into the 21st century. Following two years of discussion and consultation with particle physicists in Europe and beyond, the ESPPU has identified an electron–positron Higgs factory as the highest priority collider after the LHC. The ultraclean collision environment of such a machine (which could start operation at CERN within a timescale of less than 10 years after the full exploitation of the high-luminosity LHC in the late 2030s) will enable dramatic progress in mapping the diverse interactions of the Higgs boson with other particles, and form an essential part of a research programme that includes exploration of the flavour puzzle and the neutrino sector ...
 
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Trollheart

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The only thing I would say is that in the wake of Covid-19 (what do I mean, in the wake? We're still in the heart of the storm!) such extravagant spending on what might seem to many to be a somewhat ethereal, cerebral concept might be seen as inappropriate, even wasteful. When so many have lost their jobs, when industry is grinding to a halt and the world economy is reeling, is this really the time to speak about billions for a project that, in reality, will have no short-term benefit for that poor shmoe, the Man or Woman in the Street? I'm not necessarily saying that's how I feel, but isn't this perhaps a case of "we can go to the moon but can't feed our own people"?
 

Venusian Broon

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The only thing I would say is that in the wake of Covid-19 (what do I mean, in the wake? We're still in the heart of the storm!) such extravagant spending on what might seem to many to be a somewhat ethereal, cerebral concept might be seen as inappropriate, even wasteful. When so many have lost their jobs, when industry is grinding to a halt and the world economy is reeling, is this really the time to speak about billions for a project that, in reality, will have no short-term benefit for that poor shmoe, the Man or Woman in the Street? I'm not necessarily saying that's how I feel, but isn't this perhaps a case of "we can go to the moon but can't feed our own people"?
Now there could be a case that the money could be spent on other science projects - there is a good case that this is a bit of a white elephant and the money spent on other European Physics prijects would be better for science anyway. But putting that to one side.

- 23 billion dollars is nothing in terms of government spending and for CERN when we are talking about 23 different nations. (For example the UK government spent just over a trillion dollars in total in 2019) It looks a lot, but in reality it's relatively small. (The UK government is spending 88 billion - so far, likely to spend much more - on a railway line that will cut journey times from Birmingham to London by a bit. Is that really value for money for the rest of the country?)

- This supports a large number of high-tech jobs at the cutting edge of science. Expertise that can go on and be used in other fields. We are not just a farming economy but a complex mess that needs R&D in all sorts of areas. I feel that stagnation at the 'top' because of lack of research into basic science will eventually feed through and impact everyone in Europe.

- Science projects like this are long-term, they take years and decades to plan and fund, Long-term benefits are the reason we do it. Yes there is a Covid crisis, but most of Europe seems to have pulled through and we are getting back on our feet. Covid is bad and we'll live with the consequences but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we need to plan for that too.

- We could feed everyone in the world with current output and agriculture. The reasons we don't are varied and complex but I''d say generally down to politics, something we can't really discuss here. It's not spending on R&D that causes this. And if we didn't spend it armies and weapons we'd have so much more money to spend on better things, but that's another topic also.

I'm not necessarily saying that how I feel, but isn't this perhaps a case of "Well, if you don't do research and development, we'd all still be living in a cold cave trying to hunt animals with sticks and sharp rocks."
 

RJM Corbet

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Work on the tunnel for the new collider is only due to start by 2038, if the money can be raised by then
 
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CupofJoe

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It sounds more like a [very large] pipe dream.... Sorry. I'll get my coat.
 

RJM Corbet

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I personally don't see the immediate point in another LHC. What's wrong with the one they have?
Probably, when all the words are spoken, the top justification is going to be the continuing search for supersymmetry at higher energies than the LHC can deliver?
 

Brian G Turner

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I've just had to remove a couple of posts trying to drag this discussion into social issues and social politics, so can I please remind everyone that the Science & Nature board is for discussing science and nature topics, thank you. :)
 

Venusian Broon

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[EDITED TO REMOVE ANYTHING NOT SCIENCE OR NATURE}

The thing is, whenever there's an announcement of huge money being spent on a project the question is always raised, is it worth it? And while, yes, of course it may be worth it in the long run, has it been up to now? I'm no Luddite, and welcome change and progress as much as the next guy (well, not him, but the guy behind him) but you have to consider surely: what use has the LHC been IN REAL TERMS to anyone?
Faraday's purported reply to William Gladstone, then British Chancellor of the Exchequer, when asked of the practical value of electricity (1850):
"Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it."

Okay, okay, probably not true :) but the intent is clear. We don't know what our society will be like in 100 years and perhaps discoveries in the LHC will be crucial to how society operates, lives and survives.

But we can't know now what elements of basic research today will become important down the line, very much like Gladstone, who probably saw Electricity as a fascinating parlour trick who may be shocked (pardon the pun) with the ubiquitious use of electricity in the 21st century.

[EDITED TO REMOVE ANYTHING NOT SCIENCE OR NATURE}

So could and should that money not be better spent elsewhere? I personally don't see the immediate point in another LHC. What's wrong with the one they have?
The one built in 2010 had a purpose and a lifetime. The results from that have informed the creation of the next phase and it will have different goals and targets. Like I said right at the start of my initial post, perhaps it is not the best use of funds for research in physics, and perhaps other smaller projects would be better. But still, I think I'd rather have a new CERN than a new Trident missile.
 

Trollheart

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I've just had to remove a couple of posts trying to drag this discussion into social issues and social politics, so can I please remind everyone that the Science & Nature board is for discussing science and nature topics, thank you. :)
Sorry man. I just used the new posts and didn't realise what actual subforum this was in. My, as they say, bad.:eek::oops:
 

Brian G Turner

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What I find interesting is that I was very into high-energy particle physics in the early 1990's - that's what I originally wanted to study, but was lacking the maths to do so. However, I haven't really kept up with the subject since, but struggle to understand what I see written about now. I guess the LHC and other colliders changed our understanding of particle physics a lot more than I expected. :)

EDIT: Btw, @Venusian Broon - I presume you edited your own post?
 

RJM Corbet

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Sorry man. I just used the new posts and didn't realise what actual subforum this was in. My, as they say, bad.:eek::oops:
I think in general departments get their budgets. There are: defence, education, science, health, art and so on. No one ever gets enough they always want more.
 
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Ori Vandewalle

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We don't know what our society will be like in 100 years and perhaps discoveries in the LHC will be crucial to how society operates, lives and survives.
I think that's generally true, but I also think an argument can be made on the basis of effective field theory that the LHC and whatever comes next are unlikely to have a meaningful impact on day to day life. We have to probe extremely high energies to find new particles/fields/properties, but EFT means we already know that whatever we find up there doesn't have an (unaccounted for) influence on whatever happens down here, because the low energy theories already work and produce all the particles you expect.
 

RJM Corbet

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It seems to be a statement by CERN about if they get the money how they will spend it. They're not TAKING the money from anybody. It's a proposition? But also a definite floor plan for the next 20 years. They are suggesting contributions?
 
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Venusian Broon

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I think that's generally true, but I also think an argument can be made on the basis of effective field theory that the LHC and whatever comes next are unlikely to have a meaningful impact on day to day life. We have to probe extremely high energies to find new particles/fields/properties, but EFT means we already know that whatever we find up there doesn't have an (unaccounted for) influence on whatever happens down here, because the low energy theories already work and produce all the particles you expect.
This is certainly a very valid possibility, given what we know now. And possibly a bigger CERN as suggested will just not be powerful enough to really make much progress on any of the ideas that they are trying to probe.

But nature is a tricksy beast and it only needs one truly anomalous result that breaks our current understanding for us to get completely new insight and theories that may have a raft of other consequences.

When Max Planck solved the ultraviolet catastrophe using quanta I am sure he had no idea where his mathematical trick would lead!
 

RJM Corbet

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"if it ain't broke don't fix it," vs: "Well perhaps I could tweak it to go a bit better than it does?"
 

Robert Zwilling

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2038 is a way off and we don't know what is going to happen. At first I thought near future discoveries in space might trigger more research on Earth, but maybe in 15 to 20 years something like that could be built in space. It could easily use a nuclear power plant to create all the energy that was needed. No problems cooling it. Gravity disrupts things on Earth, we keep hearing about the miracles of zero gravity manufacturing in space, but nothing much comes of it. Perhaps a collider in zero gravity would be simpler to operate and get better results that are easier to understand.
 
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