Monday, November 11, 2013

Bigger, faster, stronger: stepping up the hunt for cosmic building blocks

Professor Rolf Heuer, director general of Cern, will attend the opening of Collider at
London's Science Museum this week. Photograph: Laurent Gillieron/AP

Building it cost £5bn; it took 20 years to construct, and is still to operate at full strength. Yet scientists have already turned their attention to designing a replacement for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's most powerful particle accelerator which last year revealed the existence of the Higgs boson, a subatomic entity which plays a key role in giving mass to the building blocks of the universe.

Proposals for a new machine include building a giant underground circular tunnel. This would be similar to the LHC – which is based at the Geneva HQ of Cern, the European particle physics laboratory – but would be more than 100km in diameter: four times the size of the current collider. An alternative device would hurtle particles in straight lines along a tunnel that would be more than 50km long.

In either case, the bursts of intense energy that would be released by colliding particles in these machines would help scientists probe matter to new levels. In particular, it would help them pinpoint material known as dark matter which is believed to account for most of the mass of the universe today.

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