Earlier this year CERN announced the Future Circular Collider study aiming to build on the success of the LHC and extend its research capabilities. Our two-part feature asks, what is it, and is it worth it?
The world’s largest experiment gave us incredible insights into the formation of our universe. Now the big sister of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider will benefit the wider scientific and engineering community and stimulate a new generation of innovation.
In January 2019, CERN launched its conceptual design report for the Future Circular Collider (FCC) – a potential successor to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It aims to have seven times the power and be four times the size of the LHC and would reach unprecedented energy levels.
Within the physics world the LHC has been a great success. In reaching energy levels approaching those at the start of the universe, it set out to confirm what we knew about the structure of hadron particles, such as protons, and then smashed them together to discover new particles.
The most exciting discovery for physicists was the Higgs Boson, a fundamental particle predicted to exist but never seen before. The LHC has given insights into how particles first gained mass and then became the matter that makes the things we can see around us.
Now work has begun on designing the biggest particle accelerator the world has ever known. By achieving energy levels even closer to those of the Big Bang, it could help find new particles and offer a deeper understanding of the rules that govern the universe.
However, the achievements of the LHC went beyond scientific discovery. Building and running the world’s largest particle accelerator also had other benefits for other fields. Knowledge of creating and optimising beams of particles is now informing new types of cancer treatment, such as proton-beam therapy and improved medical imaging.
Other discoveries include: advances in computing, novel semiconducting materials, new ways to preserve food and treat water, and new superconducting materials for improved energy efficiency and sustainability.
Following this experience, the FCC study – although an ambitious project for particle physics that will inspire new concepts, innovation and ground-breaking technologies – has also been designed to benefit other research disciplines. Knowledge that will eventually find its way into applications that have a significant impact on the economy and society.
To achieve this requires new levels of collaboration and interaction between multidisciplinary teams, and the development of tools to support this. For example, when work first started on a large-scale collider, it was found that the scientists needed a better way to communicate so engineer Tim Berners-Lee developed the technologies that formed the basis of the World Wide Web and that now allow the sharing of big data.
Bigger data, greater collaboration
Since the early days of the LHC, computing has evolved into a service for a worldwide user community. Creating the need for carrier neutrality, vendor and operator independence as well as the continued availability of open standards, hardware and software technologies; all essential to guarantee independent and effective progress of science and education.
The FCC study stimulates the development of a new era of embedded and real-time computing devices and improved tools for data management and storage and provides affordable access to a long list of scientific domains.
It is planned that the future expansion of the existing LHC infrastructure will involve partners from beyond high-energy physics, such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, which is building the world’s largest radio telescope to explore the universe, and European Southern Observatory (ESO), which operates three ground-based observing facilities for astronomy.
Collaboration will reach into life sciences via advanced medical imaging, microscopy and biomolecular data processing. Potential collaborators here include the European Molecular Biology (EMBL), which has just announced the first interactive model of human cell division, and ELIXIR, which is creating a distributed infrastructure of biological data.
More powerful super cooled magnets
To reach higher energy levels the FCC would use high-energy electric fields to speed up the particles in a 100 km tunnel. The particles would need to be constrained to form beams that will bend in a circular trajectory. This would be achieved through the use of superconducting magnets, cooled to temperatures below those of outer space using large-scale cryogenic systems. Current magnetic fields in the LHC reach 8 Tesla; the new magnets would need to reach up to 16 Tesla.
The knowledge of how to achieve these magnetic fields and build these high-field magnets does not yet exist, so this work is part of the FCC study. A number of key-enabling technologies – from accelerator structures to efficient cryogenics – are needed to ensure a reliable and efficient operation of this large-scale research infrastructure.
It is anticipated that the challenges of the FCC will drive innovation in specific engineering areas including precision mechanics, surface treatment, superconductivity, novel materials, electronic engineering and reliability engineering to improve the efficiency of such a potential future 100 tera-electron-volt (TeV) accelerator.
The impact will also extend to civil engineering. The idea to tunnel under the Alps and house the FCC is extremely ambitious. It will require advances in tunnelling technologies to develop novel methods for on-line material analysis and separation to enable recovery and re-use of excavation materials. This work would be carried out as a joint endeavour with material scientists, geologists and chemists.
A Future Circular Collider would offer extraordinary opportunities for industry, helping to push the limits of technology further. It would also provide exceptional training for a new generation of researchers and engineers in technologies that can only be imagined at present.
The ambition for the FCC is to prove (or disprove) the rules of the universe
The Standard Model of Physics is used to describe our current understanding of the fundamental building blocks of the universe and how they interact. When atoms were first discovered they were described as ‘elementary particles’ as it was thought they could not be divided.
Since then we have discovered that atoms are made of other smaller particles. Therefore, an elementary particle is simply one that is not currently thought to contain other particles.
There are two main categories of elementary particle: bosons and fermions. Bosons are force carriers such as photons, gluons, W and Z bosons. Fermions include matter and antimatter particles such as quarks, antiquarks, leptons (i.e. electrons) and antileptons.
The Standard Model makes predictions about particles that we have not yet found. For example, the popular super symmetry theory hypothesises that each known particle has a far more massive "shadow" partner that we haven’t yet discovered. Also, if each force has an elementary boson, there must be one for gravity – the graviton – that remains hypothetical and has not been discovered at present.
The legacy of the first phase of the Large Hadron Collider physics programme is the discovery of the Higgs boson particle and the start of a new phase of detailed studies of its properties, aimed at revealing the deep origin of electroweak (EW) symmetry breaking. Rapid advances in theoretical calculations, with constant progress and reliability, have inspired confidence in the key role of ever improving precision measurements.
The LHC success has been made possible by the extraordinary achievements of the accelerator and of the detectors, whose performance is exceeding all expectations. The Future Circular Collider, FCC would build on this legacy, and on the experience of previous circular colliders (LEP, HERA and the Tevatron).
The FCC study would test the Standard Model to its limits. The study explores different plans for an energy-frontier hadron collider and a luminosity-frontier lepton collider to study proton-proton, electron-positron and electron-proton collisions.
Such a collider would be a very powerful "Higgs factory", making it possible to detect new, rare processes and measure the known particles with precisions never achieved before. These precise measurements would provide great sensitivity to possible tiny deviations from the Standard Model expectations, which would be a sign of new physics.
- Uniquely map the properties of the Higgs and EW gauge bosons, pinning down their interactions with an accuracy order(s) of magnitude better than today, and acquiring sensitivity to the processes that, during the time span from 10-12 and 10-10 s after the Big Bang, led to the creation of today’s Higgs vacuum field.
- Improve the discovery reach for new particles at the highest masses and the sensitivity to rare or elusive phenomena at low mass. In particular, the search for dark matter (DM) at FCC could reveal, or conclusively exclude, DM candidates belonging to large classes of models, such as thermal WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles).
- Probe energy scales beyond the direct kinematic reach, via an extensive campaign of precision measurements sensitive to tiny deviations from the Standard Model (SM) behaviour.
The Particle Colliders - Accelerating Innovation Symposium will be held on 22 March 2019, Arena and Convention Centre Liverpool. The event is co-hosted by The University of Liverpool and CERN together with partners from the Future Circular Collider and EuroCirCol projects. It will include an industry exhibition, careers fair and interactive demonstrations and a technology-transfer workshop. More information and to book tickets https://indico.cern.ch/event/747618/
Dr Ricardo Torres, Project Manager at the Cockcroft Institute
Read more: Future Circular Collider: Is it worth it?