LHC and Future Accelerators

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Fermilab is actively involved in the research and development of future particle accelerators around the world, contributing to the next generation of machines. These accelerators, each with its own specialty, would open new windows into our universe, allowing us to view it from as yet unexplored vantages.


Upgrades to the Large Hadron Collider

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Through its participation in the LHC Accelerator Research Program, called US LARP, Fermilab contributes to the upgrade of CERN's Large Hadron Collider, the largest and highest-energy particle collider in the world. To extend its reach, scientists and engineers are designing upgrades to the LHC. One of the possible outcomes of these upgrades is a future High-Luminosity LHC.

To extend its discovery potential, the LHC will need a major upgrade around 2020 to increase its luminosity, or collision rate, by a factor of 10 beyond its design value. Such an upgrade of the LHC requires careful study and about 10 years to implement.

In July 2012, experimenters at the LHC announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, the last major missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics. A more powerful LHC would provide more accurate measurements of new particles and enable observation of rare processes that occur below the current sensitivity level. This would make it possible to detect rare events not previously witnessed and increase our understanding of the Energy Frontier.

The novel machine configuration, called the High-Luminosity LHC, will rely on a number of key innovative technologies, representing exceptional technological challenges. Fermilab will make major contributions to the HL-LHC through the advances that have been developed in accelerator and magnet technology.

Learn more about US LARP.

Learn more about the High-Luminosity LHC.

Muon Collider

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Fermilab is leading the R&D effort to design a future muon collider, a 2-kilometer-diameter circular particle accelerator.

The particle of choice for colliders is usually protons or electrons – both particles have infinite lifetimes. As announced in its name, a future muon collider would collide something else: muons – heavy cousins of electrons. Although muons live for only 2 millionths of a second, challenging scientists to design a machine that can collide them before they decay away, they have advantages that make them attractive collision candidates and, therefore, possible new tools for discovery.

Muons are fundamental particles. Unlike protons, they come in one piece, having no component parts. Thus muons make for clean, precision collisions, opening new vistas of science. They are also relatively massive, 200 times heavier than the electron. This means that, unlike electrons, they can travel in a circle without losing much energy. Because of this, a relatively small muon collider – a few miles in circumference – can reach collision energies considerably higher than much larger electron-positron colliders.

A future muon collider would easily fit on the Fermilab site. Experiments using a muon collider would complement experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at the European laboratory CERN. The LHC accelerates protons and makes them collide at record energies. Scientists expect that the collisions will reveal the nature of dark matter, extra dimensions of space and the origin of mass. Depending on what the LHC discovers, a muon collider may be the next machine in the long line of high-energy colliders.

Learn more about the muon collider.

Neutrino Factory

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Despite being the most abundant particle of matter in the universe, the neutrino is probably the least understood of all fundamental particles. Though trillions of neutrinos pass right through us every second, their extremely low tendency to interact with matter makes them a difficult study. Fermilab is investigating the possibility of building a new machine that would make these particles more accessible – a neutrino factory.

Neutrinos come in three types, which physicists call flavors. The way they are made determines their initial flavor, and once made, they can transform themselves into the other flavors as they travel. Scientists measure how fast they transform themselves into each of the other two flavors to learn more about this elusive particle.

Since neutrinos don't tend to interact with matter, very intense sources are needed to unravel the mysteries of neutrinos. Even with the most powerful conventional laboratory-made neutrino sources, experiments require very large detectors and long running times to measure neutrino properties.

A neutrino factory would produce a beam of stored muons, circling around a magnetic racetrack, which would decay to produce two types of neutrino flavors. It would serve as a new type of very intense neutrino source, which would give rise to many more neutrino interactions and thus far more opportunities for study.

Learn more about neutrino factories.

International Linear Collider

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The International Linear Collider, designed by collaborating institutions around the world, is a proposed accelerator that would collide electrons and their antimatter partner positrons. The electron and positron beams would complement CERN's Large Hadron Collider, allowing physicists to precisely explore extremely high regions of energy. Fermilab contributes accelerator and detector R&D to this monumental effort.

Consisting of two linear accelerators stretching approximately 31 kilometers in length, the ILC would smash electrons and positrons together at an energy of 500 billion electronvolts (500 GeV) at nearly the speed of light. Colliding nearly 14,000 times every second, the electrons and positrons could create new particles that could help answer some of the most fundamental questions scientists have about our universe: What is the Higgs boson? What is dark matter? Does supersymmetry exist?

The current baseline design allows for an upgrade to a 50-kilometer, 1 trillion-electronvolt (TeV) machine during the second stage of the project. There are also plans for a staged approach starting with a 250-GeV Higgs factory to study the properties of the Higgs particle discovered at the LHC in 2012 and then upgrading to 500 GeV.

The particle physics community is currently exploring whether and where to build the ILC. The Kitakami mountain range in northern Japan is currently the leading ILC candidate site.

Learn more about the International Linear Collider.

A Future Circular Collider at CERN

At 80 to100 kilometers in circumference, a proposed future collider at CERN is a giant, even compared to the Large Hadron Collider. It would allow scientists to study the Higgs boson and physics at the electroweak scale at unprecedented precision, delivering proton beams that would achieve 100 TeV at the center of mass – 12 times higher energy than recently available at the LHC. Fermilab scientists are among the hundreds of collaborators on this ambitious project.

Learn more about a Future Circular Collider at CERN.