Brussels, 02 Jul 2004
Better coordinated particle accelerator research, with more powerful technology, are major priorities on the seven-point 'to do list' revealed last week by CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory.
Robert Aymar, CERN's Director-General, outlined his organisation's seven-point scientific strategy to cover the coming years. At the top of the list is the completion of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), by 2007, with the first particle 'collisions' planned for the summer of that year. This high profile and costly international project has overcome several obstacles recently. Project Leader Lyn Evans credits strong global collaboration for getting the LHC accelerator through the hard times.
The second point on the Swiss-based organisation's action list is to consolidate its existing infrastructure in preparation for when the LHC is fully operational. The third priority is to explore future experimental programmes outside the LHC facility. The fourth priority presented at the 128th session of the CERN Council – the body representing the organisation's 20 member states on scientific and financial matters – is to investigate measures to boost the coordination of research in Europe.
The examples sited to help with this task include the CARE project (Coordination of Accelerator Research in Europe) which could contribute to an LHC upgrade, by around 2012, and the EUROTEV project in which CERN could offer its R&D expertise towards future linear colliders. Both of these projects are partly financed by the European Union.
God particle hunting
CERN's goals also include starting work on a linear accelerator injector to provide more intense beams for the LHC, as well as up-scaling the R&D on CLIC, its planned new accelerator technologies capable of handling higher energies than those of today. Again, for this to happen, greater co-operation between laboratories in Europe and beyond is needed. To date, CERN has received 18 expressions of interest.
The final point in the new strategic plan is to prepare a comprehensive review of CERN's long-term activity, looking down the road when results from the LHC will offer the world its first tantalising glimpse of the particle physics landscape beyond 2010. By this time, CERN may have found the elusive 'God particle' – the Higgs boson – which is predicted to give all other particles their mass.
Despite years of searching for Higgs, scientists the world over now concede their calculations of where in the spectrum of mass it is likely to be found were slightly out. In fact, according to a New Scientist report this month, "the particle is too heavy to be bagged by existing machines".
It goes on to speak about the new – slightly contentious – idea of combining measurements of top quark masses using weighted averages instead of simple averages, as was the norm. It says that, although a lot of money may have been wasted searching for Higgs in the wrong place, the investment in this huge accelerator project does a lot of other useful physics research as well. "And some time this decade, the Higgs – if it is does exist – will probably be found in Europe by the much more powerful LHC at CERN," it reports.