Scientists from CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, are now proposing an even larger particle accelerator to build on the work of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The new collider would be nearly four times longer, and ten times more powerful, than the 17-mile-long LHC. The scientists hope to have the new collider, which they’re calling the Future Circular Collider (FCC), functioning by 2050.
An international panel of particle physicists will consider the proposal alongside others, as they compile a European strategy for particle physics to publish in 2020, according to BBC News. One of the physicists, University College Professor Jon Butterworth, says the FCC “would be my plan A.”
The plan would cost £20 billion (almost $26 billion) and would involve digging a new tunnel under CERN, building a ring to collide electrons with positrons, then colliding protons with electrons, and then finally colliding protons together with ten times the force of the LHC.
Some critics say such an expensive ambitious project distracts from more pressing scientific priorities such as addressing climate change. But physicists believe the project would advances our understanding of the universe, and could even “advance many technologies with a broad impact on society,” according to CERN’s Director-General, Professor Fabiola Gianotti.
Physicists use particle accelerators to discover the building blocks of subatomic particles like electrons, revealing previously undetected particles that can help explain how the universe works. Most recently, the LHC discovered the existence of the Higgs Boson particle in 2012.
Particle physicists in the 20th century developed what’s called the “Standard Model” of subatomic physics. Since then, physicists and astronomers have observed phenomena that cannot be explained by the Standard Model – including gravity, dark matter, and the acceleration of the universe’s expansion.
Discovering other particles could resolve this discrepancy, and provide a “theory of everything” that can reconcile the theories of quantum physics and general relativity. So far, the LHC has failed to discover particles beyond the Standard Model – scientists hope an even more powerful particle collider could help achieve this goal.
The FCC could also help researchers understand how the recently discovered Higgs Boson particles interact with each other, and give an idea of what matter was like earlier in the development of the universe. Some scientists, however, are skeptical the FCC would be powerful enough to discover new particles, according to LiveScience.
But others argue that the nature of basic research is that the concrete benefits are unclear early on. According to CERN Director for Accelerators and Technology Dr. Frédérick Bordry:
“If you imagine the discovery of the electron by JJ Thomson in 1897, he didn’t know what electronics was. But you can’t imagine a world now without electronics.”