News / Canada

Physicists' team to tackle universe's origins

VANCOUVER - Some of the world's greatest minds have collided in Vancouver and agreed to build a new US$7.78-billion particle collider that will help answer some of the universe's deepest secrets.

The physicists had been until Thursday designing two separate particle colliders, known as linear colliders.

The colliders were expected to hurl billions of electrons at positrons — their anti-particles — along kilometre-long superconducting cavities at nearly the speed of light.

Timothy Meyer of TRIUMPH, Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, said the results of those collisions would help scientists answer questions related to the Big Bang and the evolution of the universe.

But Meyer said the physicists met at TRIUMPH in Vancouver and agreed to form a team to develop a new particle accelerator.

"Everyone wants this collider to go forward, and the technology or which one is which is sort of a secondary concern," he said. "It's like everyone is going to start rowing in the same direction."

He said the meeting also marks the transition between the design and development phases of the new accelerator, which scientists hope will complement a similar accelerator already operating in Europe.

Work at the Swiss accelerator led to announcement last year that a new particle had been found that needs further study to determine whether it's the Higgs particle.

For more than two generations, scientists have been hunting for the Higgs particle, which many believe is a missing piece in the Standard Model of Particle Physics and will help shape human understanding of the universe's origins.

According to a media statement issued by the new team, known as the Linear Collider Collaboration, the new accelerator will deliver "cleaner" collisions between electrons and positrons, and probe deeper into the particle discovered at the Swiss facility.

The team said the collider will also help scientists study other phenomena of physics.

A late-afternoon news conference at TRIUMPH heard the collider will cost about US$7.78 billion, although costs dealing with site preparation, engineering design, local taxes and operation costs have not been included in that figure.

Lyn Evans, director of the Linear Collider Collaboration, said he expects proponents to take two to three years to negotiate agreements to build the collider and another 10 for construction.

The current European site is not a candidate for construction, he added, and Japan is showing the most interest in hosting the new facility.

Evans, who is a native of Wales and is the former project manager of the European Organization for Nuclear Research's hadron collider in Switzerland, said the accelerator will be likely built in Japan, and there are two candidate sites, one of which is in the north and the other is in the southwest.

"That will be a process which will also have to be discussed, is how to converge on one single site in Japan," he said.

Until Thursday, the physicists had been working on two separate linear-collider projects: the International Linear Collider and the Compact Linear Collider.

Physicists behind the first are expected to publish a technical design report in June, paving the way for the project's construction, but physicists behind the second are still conducting research on their drive beam.

Playing a key roles on the new team is Hitoshi Murayama, director of the Kavi Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe. He will serve as the team's deputy director.

Sachio Komamiya of the University of Tokyo will head the Linear Collider Board, an oversight committee for the organization.