via new.com.au : SCIENTISTS are working on an ambitious plan to make a machine ten times more powerful than the Large Hadron Collider in what is described as a scientific leap into “uncharted new territory”.
The Future Circular Collider (FCC) is set to take particle acceleration to a whole new level and will be three times the length of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
Professor Michael Benedikt is the man responsible for leading the mammoth task of designing and bringing the FCC to life and said it represents “a bold leap into the completely uncharted new territory”.
It’s expected to take nearly two decades to build with a target completion date of 2035, but the finished product “could probe new energy scales, where fundamental new physical principles might be at play,” he told news.com.au.
It’s an upgrade on the LHC built at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, known as CERN which allowed scientists to observe the elusive Higgs Boson particle, the last unseen particle predicted by The Standard Model of particle physics, in July 2012.
For the uninitiated, the LHC is a particle accelerator on the French Swiss border which sends high energy particle beams around a 27-kilometre looped tunnel before smashing them into each other.
The collision is the closest thing we have on Earth to recreating the conditions of the big bang and the fleeting moment following the experiment can help reveal the infinitesimal and elusive building blocks of the universe, and in turn, the true nature of our world.
Now, the upgraded version is like building a new boat that makes a cruiseliner look like a tinnie.
The discovery of the Higgs Boson — which has a mass many times lighter than predicted — has left researchers with plenty more questions to answer.
“The Higgs particle itself is perhaps one of the main experimental motivations for present and future searches,” Prof Benedikt said.
From May 29 to June 2 this year, about 500 researchers from around the world met in Germany to review the progress of the FCC study and conclude on the baseline parameters of the future project.
While the exact concept for the machine remains to be seen, the FCC will leverage new superconductor technology and include magnets twice as powerful as those in the LHC.
The result will be a 97.75 kilometre machine with the power of up to 100 tera electron Volts (TeV). Or, to put it another way, the power of roughly 10 million lightning strikes.
We’ll be smashing particles together like never before.
BIG QUESTIONS AND BIG APPLICATIONS
“Accelerators have been powerful instruments for observing the microcosm and seeking answers to the most profound questions about the history of our universe … and possibly its destiny,” Prof Benedikt said.
The future collider could help us edge closer to solving the riddle of dark matter which continues to confound scientists. Dark energy and dark matter make up 95 per cent of the universe and the mysterious existence of dark matter is thought to explain a number of otherwise puzzling astronomical observations.
Dark matter doesn’t emit or interact with light and its presence can only be inferred through its gravitational pull on other objects in space.
“It is true that understanding the nature of dark matter is one of the main experimental challenges,” Prof Benedikt said.
A large future collider is “needed to explore these fundamental mysteries more deeply, possibly revealing the need for a paradigm shift.”
But the FCC is not just about answering some of the biggest questions in science. Such experiments are at the forefront of particle physics and the related research has contributed to a raft of technology advancements.
British scientist Tim Berners-Lee who created the world wide web in 1989 did so during his time at CERN. It was originally developed to meet the demand for automatic information-sharing between scientists around the world.
The LHC has also been responsible for advances in medical imaging technology as well as breakthroughs in radiotherapies for the treatment of cancer.
‘NOT A SECOND TO LOSE’
From conception to flicking the switch, the $US6.5 billion LHC was about 30 years in the making. The first mention of the machine that was to become the Large Hadron Collider appeared in CERN documents in the late 1970s.
Prototyping began in the mid-1980s. The project was approved in 1994 and the collider became operational in 2009.
That left a gap of nine years between the closure of CERN’s previous flagship facility and the LHC.
Mr Benedikt says avoiding a similar gap this time around is crucial to ensuring the momentum of scientific progress. He expects civil engineering for the FCC to start by around 2025, for an ultimate completion goal of 2035.
“To be ready to continue our exploration about the origins of our cosmos we need to start now designing the next machine. There is not a second to lose,” he said. “It is important to avoid losing a generation of scientists and experts across the many disciplines covered by an international research infrastructure.”
In the meantime there are still plenty of experiments and discoveries to be made by the LHC that will benefit from an upgrade in a few years time.
“In the next years we should have a better idea of the path chosen by nature and who knows, we may be talking with enthusiasm about the discovery of the first supersymmetric particle,” Prof Benedikt said.
And as he begins work on CERN’s next great machine he believes we might just “discover something unanticipated, something truly revolutionary that will call for a change of scientific paradigm as it was the case with general relativity and quantum mechanics.”