U.S. and CERN Sign Historic Agreement That Gives Us Clues About the Potential of the Future Circular Collider

  • If all goes according to plan, the High-Luminosity LHC will be ready by the end of this decade—by 2029, or by 2030 at the latest.

  • CERN aims for the FCC to be capable of reaching an energy of 100 TeV during the second stage of the project.

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The image above is historic—there’s no doubt about that. The woman on the left is Deirdre Mulligan, the principal deputy chief of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology. The woman on the right is Fabiola Gianotti, the director-general of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). This photograph was taken just a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., and in it, we can see the two officials signing a joint statement of intent.

This isn't the first time that CERN and the U.S. have signed a collaboration agreement. Over the last decades, several similar initiatives have prospered to strengthen the scientific collaboration between CERN, a European institution, and the U.S. However, this agreement is very special because it formalizes the commitment of American scientists to Europe to build and operate the Future Circular Collider (FCC), a state-of-the-art machine that foreshadows an optimistic future of particle physics.

FCC Aims to Go Where the High-Luminosity LHC Won’t

The High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC) is expected to be operational by the end of this decade. Officials anticipate it'll be ready by 2029 or by 2030 at the latest. This particle accelerator will be a crucial tool for CERN physicists in their quest for the longed-for Physics beyond the Standard Model (BSM). Although it’s a challenging task to get it up to speed, the engineers and scientists involved in its design and construction have already overcome several major challenges, inspiring hope for the future.

The FCC will have a 56-mile circumference (the current LHC measures 17 miles), and construction is set to begin in 2038.

But the plan doesn’t stop there. After completing all operating cycles of the HL-LHC, CERN plans to construct the FCC, a much larger accelerator capable of reaching higher energies. It’s projected to have a circumference of 56 miles (compared to the current LHC’s 17 miles) and construction is set to begin in 2038. The goal is for the FCC to reach an energy level of 100 TeV (teraelectronvolts) during the second stage of the project. To put this into perspective, the current LHC operates at an energy level of 16 TeV.

The physicists at CERN hope that the HL-LHC will help them answer important questions about dark matter–what it is and what properties it has, why neutrinos aren’t made up of dark matter, and why antimatter is absent in the universe. It might be too early to know which questions they’ll be able to answer using the FCC. However, there’s no doubt that the energy at which it’ll work should allow them to go further than the HL-LHC. In fact, it’s likely that the new BSM—that will hopefully come from this latest particle accelerator will give scientists ideas—about what they should look into with the FCC.

According to CERN, the FCC is expected to cost €20 billion ($21.7 billion). Despite the seemingly high cost, CERN believes that the FCC’s potential to advance cutting-edge physics justifies the investment, especially when compared to the cost of other advanced technologies. For instance, Intel's state-of-the-art chip factory in Magdeburg, Germany, is estimated to cost €30 billion ($32.6 billion).

If approved and successful, the FCC is expected to provide valuable knowledge in the field of basic science.

Image | Department of State

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