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Next generation machine : 20 miles long & $6.7 Billion :: 12 February, 2007
In Beijing, At a news conference an international consortium of physicists released the first detailed design of what they believe will be the Next Big Thing in physics: a machine 20 miles long that will slam together electrons and their evil-twin opposites, positrons, to produce fireballs of energy recreating conditions when the universe was only a trillionth of a second old.
It would cost about $6.7 billion and 13,000 person-years of labor to build the machine, the group reported. And that does not include the cafeteria and parking.“The good thing is that we have developed a design that can address the challenging physics goals and meet the technical requirements, and we have worked very hard to cost-optimize it, yet it (not surprisingly) does remain expensive,” Barry Barish, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology and chair of the design team, which includes 60 scientists from around the world, said in an email interview before the announcement.
The location of today’s announcement, at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Beijing, underscores the growing role and ambition of Asia, particularly Japan and China, to become major players in high-energy physics, a field that has been dominated by the United States and Europe in the last centuryIn its initial phase the collider would be 31 kilometers (20 miles) long and hurl electrons and their antimatter opposites, positrons, together with energies of 500 billion electron volts. Later the collider could be extended to 50 kilometers (31 miles) and a trillion electron volts.
The proposed machine, physicists say, is needed to complement to the Large Hadron Collider now under construction at the European Center for Nuclear Research, CERN, outside Geneva. That machine will be the world’s most powerful when it goes into operation this fall, eventually colliding beams of protons with 7 trillion electron volts of energy apiece. Physicists hope that using it they will detect a long-sought particle known as the Higgs boson, which is thought to endow all the other constituents of nature with mass. They hope, too, to discover new laws and forms of matter and even perhaps new dimensions of spacetimeBut protons are bags of smaller particles called quarks and gluons, and their collisions tend to be messy and wasteful. Because electrons and positrons have no innards, their collisions are cleaner, so they can be used to create and study with precision whatever new particles are found at Cern.
The hitch is that until the hadron collider proves its worth by actually finding something new, the governments of the world are unlikely to sign on to contribute a share of the billions.
Particle accelerators derive their punch from Einstein’s equation of mass and energy. The more energy they can pack into their little fireballs, the farther back in time they can go, closer and closer to the Big Bang and perhaps ultimate truth about nature, allowing particles and laws that once ruled the cosmos, but have since vanished more completely than the dinosaurs, to briefly strut their stuff again. But as physicists have pushed inward and backward, their machines have gotten bigger and more expensive. Competitions between universities and laboratories turned into races between countries and then continents.
The Large Hadron Collider cost about 4.7 billion Swiss Francs, or 3 billion Euros, according to CERN. But that does not include the cost of digging the collider’s 18-mile-circumference tunnel, which had been used for a previous machine, the detectors, which cost upwards of $1 billion, nor most of the above-ground CERN complex, which has been a world center of particle physics for decades.
A competitive proton collider that would have been even bigger, the Superconducting SuperCollider, was canceled by Congress in 1993. At the time its estimated cost had ballooned to $10.3 billion in 2007 dollars, according to Robin Staffin, associate director for high energy physics at the Department of Energy.
The International Linear Collider collaboration, led by a steering group chaired by Shin-ichi Kurokawa, of Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, or KEK, consists of 1,000 scientists and engineers from 100 countries.
Physicists acknowledge it could be years before the world commits to building the ILC, although jockeying for the costly privilege of hosting the giant machine has already begun. For their purposes, the committee priced three different sites: near CERN in Switzerland, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., and in the mountains of Japan and found that the cost of so-called site-specific costs, like digging tunnels and shafts and supplying water and electricity, were nearly the same in each case, about $1.8 billion.
The host country would be expected to shoulder these costs, the design collaboration said, while the remaining $4.9 billion, which covers high-tech things like magnets and control rooms, would be split among all the participants. Extras like auditoriums, cafeterias and living space for scientists were not included in the cost estimate, since at some places like Fermilab they already exist. The cost estimate released today also does not include the linear collider’s detectors.
One unusual twist to the design, said Dr. Barish, is that the tunnels, rather than being laser straight through the ground, would curve with the Earth. “It isn’t obvious and it took us a while to demonstrate that we could actually design a machine that bends” he said, but that feature would allow the digging to stay within the same geologic layers and prevent liquid cryogenics from wanting to flow “downhill” from one part of the tunnel to another.
Release link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/08/science/08cnd-collider.html