"Simulation image of Higgs boson generation" by Lucas Taylor/CERN / CC BY-SA 3.0

A Rail Gun the Size of Manhattan Could Reveal the Secrets of the Higgs Boson

Aug 23, 2019

By Paul Sutter

Nobody messes with the Large Hadron Collider. It’s the supreme particle smasher of the present age, and nothing can touch its energy capabilities or ability to study the frontiers of physics. But all glory is transitory, and nothing lasts forever. Eventually, somewhere around 2035, the lights at this 17-mile-long (27 kilometers) ring of power will go out. What comes after that?

Competing groups around the world are jostling to secure financial backing to make their pet collider ideas the next big thing. One design was described Aug. 13 in a paper in the preprint journal arXiv. Known as the Compact Linear Collider (or CLIC, because that’s cute), the proposed massive, subatomic rail gun seems to be the front-runner. What is the true nature of the Higgs boson? What is its relationship to the top quark? Can we find any hints of physics beyond the Standard Model? CLIC may be able to answer those questions. It only involves a particle collider longer than Manhattan.

Subatomic drag racing

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) smashes together somewhat-heavy particles known as hadrons (hence the facility’s name). You have a bunch of hadrons inside your body; protons and neutrons are the most common representatives of that microscopic clan. At the LHC, round and round the hadrons go in a giant circle, until they approach the speed of light and commence smashing. While impressive — the LHC reaches energies unmatched by any other device on Earth — the whole affair is a tad messy. After all, hadrons are conglomerate particles, just bags of other, tinier, more fundamental things, and when hadrons smash, all their guts spill all over the place, which makes analysis complicated.

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