WASHINGTON, D.C.--Physicists should lay plans for a new, more powerful accelerator to investigate fundamental questions such as why particles have mass, according to a National Research Council (NRC) report released here today. Panel members hope that international collaborations will help any proposal avoid the fate of the last major project: the Superconducting Super Collider, which Congress killed after billions of dollars of cost overruns.
Particle physicists are eagerly waiting to see what tumbles out of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), scheduled for completion in 2005 at CERN, the European particle physics lab in Geneva, Switzerland. When finished, the LHC will be the highest energy machine ever built; it is designed to smash protons together to probe for, among other things, a particle called the Higgs boson that could explain why things have mass. But physicists expect that the LHC will leave some crucial questions unanswered, in which case they may need to build a more powerful successor called the Very Large Hadron Collider, says panel chair and University of Chicago physicist Bruce Winstein. Another option is a more precise machine called the Next Linear Collider (NLC), which would smash electrons together and produce less obscuring debris than the proton collisions of the LHC. The panel also recommended looking into a proposal to collide short-lived particles called muons.
Any of the three options will cost billions and take over a decade to plan and build. "This is going to be an international game from now on. No one country is going to be able to contemplate doing it alone," says Donald Shapero, director of the NRC board of physics and astronomy. But Winstein says the German lab DESY seems determined to build the NLC on its own soil, with its own money.