China may be making a move to become the first country to unravel the secrets of the physical universe.
Scientists at the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing, working with international collaborators, announced a plan to build a massive particle accelerator by 2028 — a 52-kilometer underground ring that would smash electrons and positrons together.
The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, where the Higgs boson particle was discovered in 2012. China now wants to build the largest-ever particle accelerator, nearly twice the size of the CERN laboratory (Image source: ZME Science).
The Chinese project could offer new means of probing questions that are unavailable to the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research -- known as CERN -- an oval-shaped 26km underground tunnel where the famous Higgs boson was confirmed. By colliding these fundamental particles with the larger ring, it would allow the Higgs boson particle to be studied with greater precision than at Geneva's much smaller CERN collider.
When the Higgs boson particle was discovered in Europe’s particle-physics laboratory, the discovery marked a signal intellectual achievement, and fulfilled a 48-year-old prediction that the particle existed. But as many physicists celebrated the discovery, some worried there may remain no new physical mysteries to uncover with the atom smasher. For particle physics, the discovery of the Higgs was the final Superbowl
But Chinese physicists say that the proposed $3-billion machine would also be a stepping stone to a next-generation collider — a super proton–proton collider — in the same tunnel.
Why isn't the U.S. trying to compete on this stage of universal physical investigation? Well, we were, in the 90's. ZME Science reports:
"In fact, the US planned a building something like this in 1993 – the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) or Desertron, as it was nicknamed, in Texas. Its planned ring circumference was 87.1 kilometres (54.1 mi) with an energy of 20 TeV per proton or 40 TeV collision energy. This would have made it eight times more powerful than the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, but Congress eventually canceled the project after it contested its utility and $2 billion had already been spent."
Atom smashers, or particle accelerators, collider atomic nuclei together at extremely high energies, using engineering that exploits incredibly cold temperatures, very low air pressure and hyperbolically fast speeds, according to Interactions.org. For a video refresher, watch here:
(H/T: Scientific American)
Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter.