As most of the world is still dealing with the worst economic crisis in decades, Japan is currently being considered as the potential host for the International Linear Collider (ILC), a multi-billion-dollar machine that will smash atoms at higher and higher energy levels.
Members of the ILC team will hand over the finalized design of the ILC to an independent committee of researchers. The blueprint calls for a 31-kilometer-long track of superconducting cavities that will be able to accelerate particles to energies of up to 500 gigaelectronvolts before colliding them. These collisions will be able to provide a glimpse of heavier particles, which would then quickly decay inside one of two detectors.
The approach is similar to the LHC located at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC’s view of the Higgs is obscured because the collider uses protons, composite particles made up of quarks, which produce a messy spray of debris. The ILC would use electrons and anti-electrons, which are fundamental particles and would give a cleaner Higgs signal.
The ILC will cost between $7 and $8 billion to make, and the project has struggled to gain support from governments. Without international commitment, nothing is going to go forward. Japan has been hungry since it lost the bid to host the €13-billion prototype fusion reactor ITER in 2005. The quake and tsunami of last year led to a glut of reconstruction funding, some of which could go towards a scientific project like the ILC.
Currently, scientists in Japan are conducting studies of two sites: one in the Tohoku region that was struck by the tsunami and one in Kyushu, in the south of Japan. The Japanese would bore deep into a mountainside to accommodate the collider. Several aspects of the design will need to be changed to fit this setup, but researchers believe both sites are excellent sites for an accelerator.
A coalition of politicians from across Japan’s political parties has thrown their support behind the project, but the Japanese support for the collider isn’t assured. The country has never attempted such a large project, and it lacks the process for approving the large sums of money needed for the construction.
If the ILC is approved in Japan, Europe will make a contribution, just as Japan contributed to the LHC. The USA may be more reluctant to participate due to current budgetary constraints.