CERN aims to build a new €20 billion machine to unlock the secrets of the universe

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) presents plans for a next-generation model at least three times larger than the Large Hadron Collider.

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) PHOTO: Facebook

Researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), home to the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, are continuing plans for a new machine that would be at least three times larger than the existing particle accelerator, writes

The Large Hadron Collider, built in a 27-kilometer circular tunnel beneath the Swiss-French landscape, collides protons and other subatomic particles at close to the speed of light to recreate the conditions that existed a fraction of second after the Big Bang.

The machine, the world's largest collision accelerator, was used to discover the Higgs boson in 2012, almost 50 years after the particle was proposed by Peter Higgs, a theoretical physicist at the University of Edinburgh, and several other researchers. This achievement was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics the following year.

But since the discovery of the Higgs boson, the accelerator has not revealed any significant new physics that could shed light on some of the universe's deepest mysteries, such as the nature of dark matter or dark energy, why matter dominates antimatter, and whether reality is permeated with additional hidden dimensions.

CERN drew up plans for its next machine, the Future Circular Collider (FCC), in 2019. The €20bn (£17bn) machine would be 90-100km in circumference and aim to to collide subatomic particles at a maximum energy of 100 teraelectronvolts (TeV). The Large Hadron Collider reaches maximum energies of 14TeV.

However, the proposal also has critics. Sir David King, the British government's former chief science adviser, told the BBC that spending billions of dollars on the device would be “reckless” with the world facing such serious threats from the climate crisis.

On Friday, the Cern Board discussed an interim review of a feasibility study for the FCC. If plans go ahead, the organization will seek approval within the next five years and hopes to have the machine built and ready for operation in the 2040s, when the LHC will have completed its runs.

Prof. Fabiola Gianotti, Director General of Cern, said: “If approved, the FCC would be the most powerful microscope ever built to study the laws of nature at the smallest scales and highest energies, with the goal of answering some of the unsolved questions in fundamental physics today and our understanding about the universe.”

Tara Shears, member of the LHCb experiment at the Large Hadron Collider and professor of physics at the University of Liverpool, said “The scientific case is very interesting. We are currently conducting a study to see if the car is feasible. It should be completed in 2025 and a decision on the best way forward should be made in 2028. It's a next-generation machine: bigger, faster, more powerful, with the ability to reveal much more detail about the fine details of the universe. It will reveal features of the Higgs and the Higgs field that simply cannot be studied at the Large Hadron Collider, and will allow us to search for dark matter and test new physics ideas in new regimes.”

If the car is approved, it will be built in two stages. The first experiments would collide electrons with each other, while the second phase, planned for the 2070s, would collide protons with each other. Because of the additional radiation generated by the machine, it would need to be located twice as far underground as the Large Hadron Collider.

Dr Sabine Hossenfelder of the Center for Mathematical Philosophy in Munich said there was no evidence that the FCC could reveal anything about dark matter or dark energy and criticized the proposals.

The truth is that such a machine would most likely only make better measurements of some constants in the standard model, and that's it.” she said. “I don't think the societal relevance is high enough to justify such a large investment.

I fear that funding such an experiment will mean that a lot of smart people will waste their time on research that will not lead to any progress. The LHC had good motivation. The FCC does not. Particle physicists must accept that their time is up. This is the age of quantum physics.”

Professor Jon Butterworth, member of the Atlas experiment at the Large Hadron Collider and professor of physics at University College London, said the accelerator was a work in progress.

It is about extending the frontier of human knowledge into the heart of matter and fundamental forces, in part to see how fundamental they really are“, he added.