The start of construction of the €650 million SuperB particle collider in Italy has been delayed at least a year following difficulties in releasing project funding. Work on the tunnels for the facility's circular accelerator has been put back from the end of this year to the beginning of 2013, but project scientists say they are confident this will not impact plans to carry out its first collisions in 2016.
Some have expressed skepticism that SuperB will ever get built—with Italy remaining close to bankruptcy—and may take this as an early sign of a budget crisis. Marcello Giorgi of the University of Pisa, who is leading the project's technical design team, acknowledges that "everything is possible," including the axing of the project, but says that to date the government has given no signs it will cut research funding. "There is apparently no risk at the moment," he says.
To be built on the campus of the University of Rome Tor Vergata on the outskirts of the city, SuperB will accelerate beams of electrons and positrons inside two 1.2-kilometer-circumference rings and study the decay of particles such as B mesons and tau leptons that are produced when the beams collide. The pattern of these decays should help us to better understand why matter is so much more prevalent in the universe than antimatter, and could provide indirect evidence for the existence of new kinds of fundamental particle.
SuperB was approved by the Italian parliament in December 2010 as the flagship project in a new infrastructure program set up by the country's research ministry. To build the accelerator, the government said that it will provide €250 million with additional funding from Italy's Institute of Technology and National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), which is coordinating the project. The United States is chipping in with parts taken from the decommissioned PEP-II/BaBar "B-factory," and France and Russia may contribute, too. Running costs, which will make up at least €200 million of the €650 million budget, have yet to be approved.
Giorgi says that the first tranche of government money, worth €19 million, was expected to be available early this year. But prolonged negotiations involved in setting up the Cabibbo laboratory, which will house the collider, and a time-consuming bank transfer meant that the funds are only now ready to use, he says.
The official groundbreaking in the spring will signal the start of very basic tasks, such as building a road and putting up a fence around the site. Digging the tunnels for the accelerator, which will be located just a few meters below ground, will take longer because it will require identifying suitable companies to carry out the work through a bidding process at the European level. Giorgi claims, however, that this delay will not affect the switch-on date because machine construction can take place in parallel with the civil engineering.