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Global particle accelerator gets the big chill

Scientists go with superconducting technology

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Scientists at an international symposium in Beijing have recommended that a new global particle accelerator should be based on "cold" or superconducting technology, bringing the construction of the multi-billion dollar facility one step closer to reality.

A team of 12 scientists from institutions across the world made the recommendation after nearly a year of investigation and deliberation. The superconducting technology was chosen above x-band technology in part because the component parts are more readily available. Research and development of two separate technologies would have proved prohibitively expensive, the panel concluded.

Scientists expect that the new electron-positron collider will take particle physics into new areas, and will provide insights into the weird world of the fundamental particles. The proposed 40km accelerator will be used to investigate questions about dark matter and dark energy, the existence of extra dimensions and the fundamental nature of matter, energy, space and time, the panel said.

The International Linear Collider (ILC) is the second such project to get underway in recent years: European scientists are building a Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, scheduled for completion in 2007. Early results from the LHC will inform the construction of the ILC, and the two facilities will share research goals and results.

"High energy physics has a long history of using proton and electron machines in a complementary way," said Hirotaka Sugawara, one of the deciding panelists and former director of Japan’s KEK laboratory. He said that concurrent operation presented a "remarkable opportunity" to get the most out of the science. He suggested that the priority for scientists using the ILC would be to better understand the Higgs particle, a theoretical particle which, if it exists, would explain why matter has mass.

The ILC will use L-Band radio frequency power (1.3GHz) to accelerate the electron and positron beams. The experimental area will be at the mid point, where the two beams collide. UK scientists are involved in developing the technologies that will focus the beams down to the nanoscale precision required.

Professor Ian Halliday, CEO of the UK's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) said that the decision was an extremely significant milestone. He explained that £21m of PPARC's research budget had been allocated to investigations of both technologies. The recommendation in Beijing means that there is now " a clear and defined route for the future which will enable the world's particle physics community to concentrate resources and unite efforts behind the design of a superconducting technology linear collider," he said.

A construction site has not been selected yet, but work is expected to begin in 2010. ®

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