It was a triumph for particle physics — and many were keen for a piece of the action. The discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 using the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), prompted a pitch from Japanese scientists to host its successor. The machine would build on the LHC’s success by measuring the properties of the Higgs boson and other known, or soon-to-be-discovered, particles in exquisite detail.
But the next steps for particle physics now seem less certain, as discussions at the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP) in Chicago on 8 August suggest. Much hinges on whether the LHC unearths phenomena that fall outside the standard model of particle physics — something that it has not yet done but on which physicists are still counting — and whether China’s plans to build an LHC successor move forward.
When Japanese scientists proposed hosting the International Linear Collider (ILC), a group of international scientists had already drafted its design. The ILC would collide electrons and positrons along a 31-kilometre-long track, in contrast to the 27-kilometre-long LHC, which collides protons in a circular track that is based at Europe’s particle-physics laboratory, CERN (See ‘World of colliders‘).
Because protons are composite particles made of quarks, collisions create a mess of debris. The ILC’s particles, by contrast, are fundamental and so provide the cleaner collisions more suited to precision measurements, which could reveal deviations from expected behaviour that point to physics beyond the standard model.
For physicists, the opportunity to carry out detailed study of the Higgs boson and the heaviest, ‘top’ quark, the second most recently discovered particle, is reason enough to build the facility. …