China will begin work on the world’s largest super-collider in 2020, a mega-machine aimed at increasing understanding of the elusive Higgs boson, state-run media reported Thursday.
The facility, designed to smash subatomic particles together at enormous speed, will reportedly be at least twice the size of Europe’s physics lab, the Swiss-based CERN, where the Higgs boson was discovered.
Scientists believe the Higgs — sometimes dubbed the ‘God particle’ — endows mass, making it a fundamental building block of the universe.
The final concept design for the project is on track for completion by the end of 2016, Wang Yifang, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics at the China Academy of Sciences, told the China Daily.
The facility is expected to generate millions of Higgs bosons, far more than the current capacity of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where the particle was uncovered in 2012.
As planned, the Chinese project will generate seven times the energy of the LHC, smashing sub-atomic particles together to generate ‘Higgses’ on an unprecedented scale.
‘(The) LHC is hitting its limits of energy level,’ Wang told the China Daily, which is published by the government. ‘It seems not possible to escalate the energy dramatically at the existing facility.’
CERN was quick to point to its own plans for a major upgrade to the LHC.
It said it aimed for a tenfold increase by 2025 in the ‘luminosity’ of the LHC, meaning the rate of particle collisisons that the machine can generate.
‘The LHC already delivers proton collisions at the highest energy ever,’ CERN chief Rolf Heuer said in a statement.
‘The High-Luminosity LHC will produce collisions 10 times more rapidly, increasing our discovery potential and transforming the LHC into a machine for precision studies: the natural next step for the high-energy frontier,’ he insisted.
More than 230 scientists and engineers from around the world met at CERN this week to discuss the project, which would be operational from 2025, the organisation said on its website.
CERN said its upgrade would allow its giant lab – a 27-kilometre (17-mile) ring-shaped tunnel straddling the French-Swiss border – to produce 15 million Higgs boson particles per year, compared to the 1.2 million it generated in total between 2011 and 2012.
At a time when austerity measures have led many developed nations to reduce research funding for projects without clear applications, China has been pouring huge sums money into theoretical as well as practical science, hoping to become a world leader in fields from biology to cosmology.
Planning for the Chinese project began in 2013, shortly after the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson, according to slides from a presentation by Wang in Geneva that appeared on his institute’s website.
He suggested Qinhuangdao, a northern port city that is the starting point of the Great Wall, as an ideal location for the underground facility, noting its favourable geological conditions and local wineries as important selling points.
China’s rapid economic growth and large population put it in a unique position to invest in basic scientific research, he wrote.
‘This is a machine for the world and by the world: not a Chinese one,’ he added, saying physicists from around the globe had travelled to China to help with the project.