• World
  • Feb 09

Explainer - Future Circular Collider of CERN

• Researchers at the European Council for Nuclear Research (in French Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), known as CERN, have proposed construction of ‘Future Circular Collider’ at a cost of $17 billion. 

• The proposed atom smasher is larger than the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

• With its 27 km circumference, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is currently the most powerful particle collider in the world. 

What is CERN?

• CERN is the world’s leading laboratory for particle physics. 

• Its headquarters is situated in Geneva. 

• The CERN convention was signed in 1953 by 12 founding countries and entered into force on September 29, 1954.

• Today, CERN has 23 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

• Cyprus, Estonia and Slovenia are Associate Member States in the pre-stage to Membership. 

• Croatia, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Pakistan, Türkiye and Ukraine are Associate Member States.

• Japan and the United States of America hold Observer status.

• Over 600 institutes and universities around the world use CERN’s facilities. 

• Funding agencies from both Member and Non-Member States are responsible for the financing, construction and operation of the experiments on which they collaborate. 

• CERN spends much of its budget on building machines such as the Large Hadron Collider and it only partially contributes to the cost of the experiments.

• Since CERN began in 1954, it has made many significant breakthroughs, both in particle physics (such as our early discovery of neutral currents) and technologies that have helped improve our day-to-day lives (including the World Wide Web). Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, invented the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1989, while working at CERN.

What is Large Hadron Collider (LHC)?

• The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the most powerful particle accelerator ever built. 

• The accelerator sits in a tunnel 100 metres underground at CERN on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland.

• It first started up on September 10, 2008.

• It consists of a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets with a number of accelerating structures that boost the energy of the particles along the way.

• Inside the accelerator, two high-energy particle beams travel at close to the speed of light before they are made to collide at four locations around its ring.

• The beams travel in opposite directions in separate beam pipes — two tubes kept at ultrahigh vacuum. They are guided around the accelerator ring by a strong magnetic field maintained by superconducting electromagnets. 

• The detectors gather clues about the particles – including their speed, mass and charge – from which physicists can work out a particle’s identity.

Why is it called the Large Hadron Collider?

• “Large” refers to its size, approximately 27km in circumference.

• “Hadron” because it accelerates protons or ions, which belong to the group of particles called hadrons.

• “Collider” because the particles form two beams travelling in opposite directions, which are made to collide at four points around the machine.

Discovery of the Higgs boson

• On July 4, 2012, the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) announced the discovery of a new particle with features consistent with those of the Higgs boson predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics. 

• Two research groups of some 3,000 scientists each, ATLAS and CMS, managed to extract the Higgs particle from billions of particle collisions in the LHC.

• The Standard Model of particle physics describes how the world is constructed. According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowers and people to stars and planets, consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles. These particles are governed by forces mediated by force particles that make sure everything works as it should.

• The entire Standard Model also rests on the existence of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle. This particle originates from an invisible field that fills up all space. Even when the universe seems empty this field is there. Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the feld that particles acquire mass. The theory proposed by Francois Englert and Peter Higgs describes this process.

• The discovery was a landmark in the history of science and captured the world’s attention.

• One year later, it won Francois Englert and Peter Higgs the Nobel Prize in Physics for their prediction made decades earlier, together with the late Robert Brout, of a new fundamental field, known as the Higgs field, that pervades the universe, manifests itself as the Higgs boson and gives mass to the elementary particles.

• The discovery of the Higgs boson at the LHC closes the chapter of the Standard Model and poses new, more puzzling questions that call for building energy and intensity-frontier colliders.

The Standard Model cannot explain several observations such as:

• Evidence for dark matter

• Prevalence of matter over antimatter

• The neutrino masses.

Future Circular Collider (FCC)

• CERN’s main facility, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), will complete its mission around 2040. The international particle physics community is exploring various options for the design of an accelerator to succeed the LHC.

• Building on its remarkable legacy of research and technological development, CERN is looking to the future, in particular by studying the feasibility of a Future Circular Collider.

• The scientific value of studying the feasibility of the FCC was confirmed by the European Strategy for Particle Physics, which was updated by the CERN Member States in 2020, with the FCC standing out as the most suitable option to take over from existing facilities. 

• CERN was therefore tasked that year by its Member States with initiating the feasibility study.

• The FCC, with its high-precision and high-energy reach will extend, well beyond the LHC, the search for new particles and interactions, which could hold the key to understanding unexplained phenomena. 

• Operating as part of one of the most sophisticated scientific complexes in the world, the FCC, if it goes ahead, would optimise and extend the life of the existing infrastructure until the end of the 21st century, while helping to further our understanding of the Universe.

• The future accelerator would be installed in a tunnel measuring some 91 kilometres in circumference at a depth of between 100 and 400 metres on French and Swiss territory, passing under Lake Geneva. 

• In 2028, depending on the results of the study, a decision will be made about the project as a whole and about the prospects for commissioning the collider in the 2040s.

• Many constraints restrict the layout to a limited area. The tunnel must avoid geologically complex areas. It must maximise the efficiency of future colliders. It must be connectable to the LHC. The location of the surface sites must respect social and environmental constraints. 

• The FCC tunnel would house two colliders, one after the other. The first step, aimed to start operation in the mid 2040s, is an electron-positron collider (FCC-ee) that would provide unprecedented precision measurements and potentially point the way to physics beyond the standard model. 

• The second step would be a proton-proton collider (FCC-hh) reaching energies up to eight times those of the LHC and offering new discovery potential.

• FCC would be the most efficient and comprehensive scientific instrument for addressing the open questions in particle physics.

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