CERN's proposed 100-km particle accelerator would run rings around the LHC
CERN, the European research organization responsible for operating the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), has released a report outlining a proposed particle accelerator that would be nearly four times as long and 10 times as powerful as its predecessor. Dubbed the Future Circular Collider (FCC) – for the time being at least – the LHC's successor would cost around €9 billion (US$10.26 billion) and could be up and running by 2040.
The LHC only recently celebrated its 10th birthday and is responsible for numerous scientific breakthroughs – most notably the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson. Although the LHC still has plenty of physics secrets to uncover (it's currently undergoing a massive upgrade to enable higher energy collisions), CERN is already looking further into the future. Considering it took 10 years to build the LHC and its 27-km-long (17-mi) tunnel, it's probably a good idea to start planning for the FCC now.
The FCC collaboration's Conceptual Design Report (CDR) outlines different options for delivering a future large circular collider capable of delivering electron-positron, proton-proton and ion-ion collisions at unprecedented energies and intensities. The ultimate goal is to provide a superconducting proton accelerator ring with a circumference of 100 km (62 mi) that is capable of smashing particles at energies of up to 100 TeV – for comparison, the LHC set a world record in 2015 with collisions reaching an energy of 13 TeV.
The footprint of the FCC would overlap that of the LHC, allowing some sharing of systems. It's expected the cost of civil engineering to construct the first stage would run to around €5 billion (US$5.7 billion). It could begin operations by 2040 when the upgraded High-Luminosity LHC is due to wind down, and deliver 15 to 20 years of use to the worldwide physics community. A superconducting proton machine making use of the same 100-km tunnel would cost an additional €15 billion (US$17 billion) and could begin operations in the late 2050s.
CERN describes the FCC as a powerful "Higgs factory," enabling precise study of how Higgs particles interact with each other, as well as aiding in the search for new massive particles and being able to "significantly expand our knowledge of matter and the universe." It's also hoped the FCC will provide evidence to explain dark matter and the dominance of matter over antimatter, which don't fit into the Standard Model of particle physics.
While such goals are laudable, the astronomical price tag of the FCC is likely to give pause to many of the partner countries that will be called on to reach into their pockets – especially given the cost overruns of the LHC. But the 1,300 contributors to the FCC design study, from 150 universities, research institutes and industrial partners, would no doubt ask, what price knowledge?