The Geneva based Large Hadron Collider has gobbled a lot of cash and resource in order to become operational, but through the constant fantastic results that has advanced particle physics understanding greatly, which couldn’t have been possible otherwise, it has definitely shown its value. The next generation of particle smasher is apparently destined for Japan, so far the only possible host for the planned International Linear Collider (ILC). The collider will able to smash particles with enormous energy in order to break them apart and study their sub-particle constituents, complementing the more potent LHC.
The current blueprint has the huge collider shaped as 31-kilometer-long track that will be capable of accelerating particles with energies of up to 500 gigaelectronvolts along its superconducting cavities before smashing them together for study. Heavy particles that offer glimpses into the very first moments after the Big Bang are then formed for very short periods of time before decaying. The LHC, though it has a smaller runway of 27 kilometers, is capable of accelerating particles at a designed capacity of 14 terraelectronvolts – almost 30 times as much as the intended ILC.
The ILC however is intended to study other types of particle collisions. While the LHC collides protons – comprised of multiple constitutive elements like quarks that splatter all over and disrupt accurate data reading – the ILC would use electrons and anti-electrons, which are fundamental particles and would give a much cleaner Higgs signal. This year, scientists at CERN confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson in a celebrated event for science. The ILC will further shape a better picture of the elusive particle, that would otherwise not be possible.
No easy task, but local support is strong
It’s enormously expensive, though, with a projected development cost of $7 billion to $8 billion. In an economic recession, these figures aren’t very encouraging. Even the final touches to the design of the ILC – which unlike the LHC will be deployed ground side with a large portion of the accelerator track set to be deployed in the mountainside, where heavy bore drilling will take place – were under danger of not being completed because of lack of funding. International support is thus indispensable for this project to kick start soon. Currently two sites have been proposed: one in the Tohoku region that was struck by the tsunami and the other in Kyushu, in the south of the country.
This begs a different question. Last year the country was plagued by a vicious tsunami that cost the lives of thousands and caused tens of billions in damage. Remarkably, the nation recovered phenomenally and handled the whole situation exemplary, however will the world’s governments agree on placing such an important and complex instrument in a country that’s subjected to a high risk of earthquakes and tsunamis? “Both sites would be excellent sites for an accelerator,” Barry Barish, the head of the global design effort for the ILC.
The country has never attempted a scientific global project of such magnitude, however government support is almost unanimous. Competitors aren’t really a reality, since the LHC is busy studying data that will keep them occupied for years and years ahead. The US might be the only other possible candidate. Its main particle physics program, the neutrino centered Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, however is facing massive budget cuts.
“We need to have an expression of interest from other scientific communities around the world to persuade the government to go forward,” adds Yasuhiro Okada, a trustee at KEK, Japan’s particle-physics laboratory in Tsukuba.
If a global consensus can be reached within the next three years, construction could begin in Japan by the end of the decade. “It’s either Japan or it’s going to be on the shelf for a while,” Barish warns.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.