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China plans world's largest supercollider

Chinese scientists are designing a particle-smashing collider so massive it could encircle a city.

| Science & Technology, China

China's proposed supercollider plans to be twice the size of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland [Getty Images]


Kevin Holden

Beijing, China - Chinese scientists are racing to complete plans for a supergiant particle collider that, when built, will dwarf every other accelerator on the planet.

The underground particle-smashing ring aims to be at least twice the size of the globe's current leading collider - the Large Hadron Collider (CERN) outside Geneva. With a circumference of 80 kilometres, the Chinese accelerator complex would encircle the entire island of Manhattan.

A preliminary conceptual design for this leading-edge particle physics laboratory is now being drafted by China's elite sphere of physicists, joined by a circle of Western counterparts.

Called the Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC), China hopes it will shine as a symbol of the country's rise as a global superpower in terms of pure scientific research.

"This machine is by and for the world," explains Professor Gao Jie, one of the leaders of the project at the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing.

Beijing plans to speedily expand cooperation between China's foremost physicists and their European and American counterparts with the new collider. 

The new collider research outpost, situated on the Avenue of Eternal Peace in the centre of Beijing, is aiding in the conceptual design that plans to be submitted to China's top leadership in December, according to Professor Arkani-Hamed, a scholar at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, the one-time home of Albert Einstein.

Fundamental changes to science

The collider complex is initially designed to smash together electrons and their anti-matter counterparts, and later more massive protons, at velocities approaching the speed of light. This process hopes to recreate, inside the accelerator, the hyper-energy conditions that dominated following the Big Bang. Physicists aim to explore the origins of matter, energy, and space-time. China's bigger collider will ultimately be able to reach higher energy levels than CERN; this might help physicists discover a new range of particles beyond those already charted in the Standard Model of Particle Physics. 

China will without question become the world leader in the field [of physics].

- Professor Arkani-Hamed, Institute for Advanced Study

Arkani-Hamed says that a perfect circle-shaped city, hosting the globe's leaders in experimental particle physics, new-technology firms and other future-oriented scholars and designers, could be created inside the massive Chinese collider complex. The Collider complex would also host a multipurpose science-technology campus aimed at conducting secondary and supplemental science experiments.

With the unveiling of the new collider, he forecasts, "China will without question become the world leader in the field [of physics]".

This collider will also act as the newest star in the firmament of particle physics, and leading scientists worldwide will rapidly gravitate toward it, says Arkani-Hamed, "for original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realizations of super symmetry [and] theories for dark matter".

Gerard 't Hooft, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1999, told Al Jazeera that China's collider project "will bring hundreds, probably thousands of top class scientists with different specialisations, from pure theory to experimental physics and engineering from abroad to China".

A theoretical physicist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Professor 't Hooft has been a central figure in the development of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, whose theories on the fundamental building blocks and forces of nature have been tested over the last half century at powerful colliders in the US and Europe. 

The next stage in the revolution of understanding these primary particles and forces, and their interactions, Professor 't Hooft predicts, could partially unfold in China with the construction of the electron accelerator and then the more powerful proton collider.

Within the same 80km tunnel, the collider complex plans to be divided between two different super colliders. The Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC) smashes together electrons and anti-electrons, while the Super Proton Proton Collider (SPPC) will be used to study the super-speed collisions of protons. The CEPC is designed to study with precision the Higgs boson and how it decays following a collision. The SPPC might uncover a new range of particles beyond those already known.

Professor Gao Jie, formerly a visiting scholar at the French Laboratoire de l'Accélérateur Linéaire, says both the Circular Electron Positron Collider and the Super Proton Collider will be global projects.  

"China welcomes participation from the world on machine design, construction, and experiments for sure," he says.

Global participation

Professor Arkani-Hamed has already started inviting leading scientists in particle and accelerator physics to sojourn and lecture at Beijing's new Center for Future High Energy Physics.

New subatomic particle could be Higgs boson

The centre is set to ramp up exchanges with scholars around the world as they explore the mysteries remaining within and beyond the Standard Model, he says.

China's colossal collider could attract thousands of American scientists focused on high-energy experimental physics, he says, because the US has lost its edge in terms of constructing world-leading accelerators. 

When the US abandoned contstructing the Superconducting Super Collider as a result of balloon costs, many experimental physicists in the US relocated to the Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border. And "the US has not put forward an ambitious agenda for driving the future of fundamental physics in the 21st century," he says.

Many US physicists, Arkani-Hamed predicts, will be drawn into the orbit of China's supergiant accelerator ring even before it starts operations.

Chinese and Western scholars at the Center for Future High Energy Physics are now sketching out rough designs for the CEPC. They will initially focus on deepening understanding of the Higgs boson, discovered at the CERN complex in 2012, and the mechanism underlying the origin of mass of subatomic particles.

Although CERN has also begun exploring the potential to construct a super collider, its scheduled deadline for completing a preliminary conceptual design for the project is not until 2018 - fours years behind China's timetable.

Meanwhile, he says that with an 80km collider complex, "you could actually build a city inside the ring". 

Scientists, Internet entrepreneurs, software designers and museum operators from around the world might stake claims in this Chinese collider cosmopolis of the future, says Arkani-Hamed.

"This could be a scientific utopia," he adds. 

Source: Al Jazeera

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