China is planning to enter the Europe- and US-dominated world of experimental physics with (wait for it …) a bang. It has formally announced that it will begin the first phase of construction of an enormous particle accelerator around 2020, which will be twice the size and seven times more powerful than CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
Europe's LHC is the largest single machine in the world, a huge circular tunnel 17 miles (27 km) in circumference. But China's planned Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC) could (almost) literally run rings around it – it will be between 30 and 62 miles in circumference, large enough to circle Manhattan.
Wang Yifang, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, has suggested Qinhuangdao, a northern port city near the start of the Great Wall, as an ideal location for the underground facility.
The plan is for the tunnel to house two different super colliders. The first phase project will be the CEPC, designed to study the Higgs boson particle and how it decays following a collision. Super colliders smash atomic particles together at velocities close to the speed of light, to try to recreate the conditions that followed the Big Bang. China's super collider will get closer to these conditions than ever before.
"The LHC is hitting its limits of energy level," Wang told China Daily. "It seems impossible to escalate the energy dramatically at the existing facility. The technical route we chose is different from the LHC. While the LHC smashes together protons, it generates Higgs particles together with many other particles. The proposed CEPC, however, collides electrons and positrons to create an extremely clean environment that only produces Higgs boson particles."
The second stage of the planned accelerator, to begin construction in 2040, is the Super Proton-Proton Collider (SPPC). This will be a fully upgraded version of the LHC, designed to study the super-speed collisions of protons. It might uncover a whole new range of particles, and shed light on the mysteries of dark matter, the Big Bang and black holes.
According to the project leaders, this will be an international project, with global participation on design, construction and experiments. Professor Akrani-Hamed from Beijing's new Center for Future High Energy Physics told Al Jazeera that he has already started inviting leading scientists to lecture and sojourn in Beijing. He predicts that physicists and scientists from around the world will take part in the project.
China certainly has the financial muscle to pull off a project of this scale and seems determined to catch up with the US and Europe in its impact on science. According the 2013 Nature Index, China's contribution to high quality research journals is now second only to the US.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon