We Don’t Need a Bigger Particle Collider
Physics has changed, but the methods of particle physicists have not: they still rely on serendipitous discoveries. That works when exploratory experiments are diverse and numerous. But when new experiments cost billions of dollars and take decades to prepare and conduct, it is far from the best approach.
FRANKFURT – Between Lake Geneva and the Swiss Jura, more than 100 meters (328 feet) below the surface, lies a circular tunnel, 27 kilometers (17 miles) in circumference, containing superconducting magnets that accelerate protons almost to the speed of light. At four locations in the tunnel, the protons are made to collide. Particle physicists observe these collisions, in an effort to learn what matter is made of and what holds it together.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), is the largest particle collider ever built and was the source of grand hopes when it was launched in 2008. Some predicted it would find the particles that comprise “dark matter,” which astrophysicists believe constitutes 85% of all matter in the universe. Others expected the LHC to deliver evidence of new natural symmetries or additional dimensions of space, or to help explain “dark energy” (which supposedly causes the observed accelerated expansion of the universe).
None of this has happened. The LHC did enable the discovery of one new elementary particle, the Higgs boson – the last missing particle predicted (in the 1960s) in the Standard Model of particle physics. But that was in 2012, and no new particles have been found since. Would building another, larger collider change that?