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Curated by RSF Research Staff

Physicists shrink plans for next major collider

Limited funding and a dearth of newly discovered particles are forcing physicists to cut back plans for their next major accelerator project: a multibillion-dollar facility known as the International Linear Collider (ILC) in Japan. On 7 November, the International Committee for Future Accelerators (ICFA), which oversees work on the ILC, endorsed halving the machine’s planned energy from 500 to 250 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), and shortening its proposed 33.5-kilometre-long tunnel by as much as 13 kilometres. The scaled-down version would have to forego some of its planned research such as studies of the ‘top’ flavour of quark, which is produced only at higher energies

The most powerful particle accelerator built to date, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, was able to complete the Standard Model of particle physics with the detection of the Higgs boson (the Higgs is inferred from a statistically significant signal in a meaningful energy range that is produced once in every couple of hundred billion proton-to-proton collisions).

Although researchers at CERN and physicists around the world were ecstatic by the discovery of the Higgs, excitement has slowly turned to inanition as experiments at the LHC have largely failed to detect new particles. Many of these new particles, like the so-called superpartners, could have led to a grand unified theory---but have failed all efforts of detection. Another well-known example of particles needed to verify conventional theories are the putative dark matter particles, which have not been detected by the LHC or other specialized detectors.

One physicist has explained the situation and feelings around the issue as such in: 'the LHC "nightmare scenario" has come true'---

"Since I entered physics, I’ve seen grand unified models proposed and falsified. I’ve seen loads of dark matter candidates not being found, followed by a ritual parameter adjustment to explain the lack of detection. I’ve seen supersymmetric particles being “predicted” with constantly increasing masses, from some GeV to some 100 GeV to LHC energies of some TeV. And now that the LHC hasn’t seen any superpartners either, particle physicists are more than willing to once again move the goalposts.

During my professional career, all I have seen is failure. A failure of particle physicists to uncover a more powerful mathematical framework to improve upon the theories we already have. Yes, failure is part of science – it’s frustrating, but not worrisome. What worries me much more is our failure to learn from failure. Rather than trying something new, we’ve been trying the same thing over and over again, expecting different results."

With the reality of the situation becoming increasingly clear, plans for the next massive particle accelerator are already being scaled back. Researchers and funders are beginning to realize that they may be hurtling down the wrong track. As author of 'the LHC "nightmare scenario" has come true' puts it:

"That the LHC hasn’t seen evidence for new physics is to me a clear signal that we’ve been doing something wrong, that our experience from constructing the standard model is no longer a promising direction to continue. We’ve maneuvered ourselves into a dead end by relying on aesthetic guidance to decide which experiments are the most promising. I hope that this latest null result will send a clear message that you can’t trust the judgement of scientists whose future funding depends on their continued optimism."

Article: Physicists shrink plans for next major collider

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