CERN’s Supercollider Plan: $17-Billion 'Higgs Factory' Would Dwarf LHC

Europe is moving forward with plans to build a massive supercollider called the Future Circular Collider (FCC) in order to study the Higgs boson in detail. The FCC would be built underneath the French and Swiss countryside and would be much larger than its predecessor, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. However, scientists are facing the challenge of convincing funders that the investment in the FCC is worthwhile.


Feasibility Study Reveals Potential for Construction

A mid-term report studying the feasibility of the FCC, which would be built in the CERN region, concluded that there are no technical or scientific obstacles to its construction. The report did not provide specific details but stated that the construction of the FCC, requiring a circular tunnel 200 meters underground, could begin as early as 2033. The full study will be published next year and a decision on the project is expected before 2028.

Former CERN director-general Chris Llewellyn Smith expressed confidence in the FCC, stating that while there is a great deal of detail to be worked out, the overall concept has remained consistent.

The Science Behind the FCC

The FCC's purpose is to collide electrons with their antimatter counterparts, positrons, with the goal of generating and studying a large number of Higgs bosons. Scientists believe that by studying the Higgs boson more closely, they may be able to uncover new insights and potential cracks in the standard model of particles and forces. The FCC is seen as having greater physics potential than other proposed designs because it could produce Higgs bosons at a higher rate.

While the FCC is the most compelling scientific instrument according to the European Particle Physics Strategy, there are other 'Higgs factory' designs in the works, including the International Linear Collider and the Circular Electron Positron Collider.

Financial Challenges and Alternative Proposals

Building the FCC will require significant financial contributions from European countries that are members of CERN, as well as associate members such as the United States and Japan. The price tag of the FCC is estimated at 15 billion Swiss francs ($17 billion). However, some scientists argue that the cost of building mega-colliders outweighs their benefits, especially since there is no clear guidance from theory on what could be discovered.

Notably, there are alternative proposals for future colliders based on different technologies, such as colliding beams of muons instead of electrons or protons. These alternative proposals have some support within the particle-physics community, but CERN's focus remains on the FCC. CERN's director-general, Fabiola Gianotti, has stated that building the FCC would not prevent CERN from contributing to a muon collider if it proves to be possible.