Bigger, Better, Faster: Preparing for LHC’s Big Sister
By Timothy Alberdingk Thijm, staff writer
The Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, has been running for three years since its conception in 1983. Already, international physicists are planning to introduce a big component to LHC’s family over the coming years: LHC’s big sister.
The proposed new collider – whether it will collide electrons or protons is debated – was dubbed the Very Large Hadron Collider according to ExtremeTech. It will allow scientists to examine much greater energy levels– up to eight times as high, thanks to stronger magnets and higher accelerations.
The LHC is an important step forward in particle physics with the discovery of the Higgs boson, sometimes nicknamed the “God particle” for its confirmation of the Standard Model. However, a larger collider would allow researchers “to see the entire animal,” instead of merely “the tail of the dinosaur” according to Guido Tonelli, the spokesperson for the CMS detector. In effect, the anticipated collider would allow researchers to see smaller particles with greater precision: even though the LHC still has a good twenty years left, it – and its predecessor, the LEP –lack the energy levels required to produce fine enough results.
Currently, the LHC is in shutdown for upgrades. Beam energy has increased up to 6.5 teraelectronvolts (which is 6.5 trillion times the energy gained or lost when a single electron moves “across an electron potential difference of one volt” – not quite enough energy to produce one watt of power for one second). This may give us “the first glimpse of what dark matter is,” says Dr. Rolf Heuer, director general of Cern. Dark matter. Dark matter makes up an estimated 25 per cent of the known universe, and is a subject that has puzzled physicists for years. Links were made between dark matter and some minute particles that behave similarly, which are studied by particle physicists.
Nonetheless, science marches on. A new collider would require the removal and careful disposal of up to ten million cubic metres of rock, and the costs can be expected to be astronomical. Dr. Rolf Heuer hopes that a partnership between several countries will reduce costs. China and Japan voiced interest in hosting the collider, but “European advocates argue Cern’s established infrastructure would deliver substantial savings.” Regardless, the project will certainly take a long time, no matter the costs: as the LHC’s lifespan shows, such efforts remain in the embryonic stages for decades. An optimistic estimate sets the new collider to open as the LHC retires, in 2035, but, as Dr. Rolf Heuer commented on price estimates, “any number you mention will be wrong … and worse it will be remembered forever.”
Timothy Alberdingk Thijm is a staff writer at Arbitrage Magazine. He studies at the University of Toronto.