Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sit tight, a bigger bang is coming

THE vast new Cern particle collider has only just hummed into life, but physicists are already drawing up plans for a still larger machine to answer the questions even Albert Einstein was unable to resolve.

The International Linear Collider (ILC) would be a machine up to 31 miles long, comprising two giant “guns” that would accelerate electrons and particles of antimatter called positrons to near-light speeds before smashing them together.The results could open up some of the hottest topics in physics, such as the existence of extra dimensions, the origins of gravity and even how the big bang – the event that created the universe – happened.

“The ILC would build on the work of Cern’s new Large Hadron Collider [LHC],” said Brian Foster, professor of experimental physics at Oxford University and European director of the project. “The LHC smashes protons together to discover new particles but also generates lots of debris that obscures the fine detail. The ILC would be a much cleaner machine and tell us far more about their real nature.”

Physicists around the world have spent about £150m on designs for the new machine, nicknamed “Einstein’s telescope”, since the project was set up three years ago. About £10m has come from Britain.

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