Will the 100 TeV Hadron Collider get built?

The possibility for a 100 TeV hadron collider was first mentioned on this blog in 2011 long before your other favoured outlets got excited about it, but before we consider naming it the ViXra Legacy Hadron Collider it should be admitted that the idea was part of a plan formed as long ago as Snowmass-1996 in the US, even if it did take viXra to shake it back into the consciousness of physicists.


As I said at the time, it is going to be very hard to get funding for the VLHC because it will require the emptying of quite a lot of penny jars. It also has no guarantee of a discovery unless you think that finding no new physics will discover the multiverse. I do buy that argument but it is going to be a hard to sell to the public especially since a lot of physicists will disagree. The possibility of finding supersymmetry or some other mechanism that would solve the hierarchy problem and make the universe almost natural is a good case to make but I am not sure it will be strong enough.

Already the hope of the US offering funding for this project is about as remote as SPT 0243-49 and for Europe it may not be much nearer. However there is a very real chance now that China will pick up the tab. This is especially true if Japan confirms its plans to build the ILC because China will not want to let Japan continue to have the most prestigious physics project in Asia. Apart from this you will hear many arguments in favour of building aVLHC including the following:

  1. Accelerator projects have produced spin-offs such as the World Wide Web, touch screens and MRI scanners.
  2. Although discoveries at the energy frontier have no technological benefit they make life worth living.
  3. Accelerators foster international collaborations that transcend  international politics.
  4. A hadron collider is about the same price as a good aircraft carrier.
  5. A hadron collider will boost national prestige.
  6. For every x dollars a country spends on a collider y dollars are returned in engineering contracts.
  7. For every x dollars a country spends on a collider the value of the research skills obtained by students and post-docs has a value to that countries economy greater than x – y dollars.
  8. A hadron collider will not destroy the Earth.

In theory research spending is allocated by funding agencies that are independent of political parties but we all know that in practice this is not true and that the bigger the amount being spent, the less true it is. The question then is which of these seven arguments would convince a politician. The case for spin-offs is rather flimsy and easily torn apart by the projects detractors of which there will be many chosen to advise the politicians. Points 2 to 4 are more likely to have a net negative effect on persuading your typical world leader to support the project. In particular the last thing they want is academics fostering relationships that go against the politicains everyday international squabbles, whereas a better aircraft carrier is always high on their list of wants. The prestige argument brings some hope but only in countries where the current leader or his offspring might still be in power when the thing bears fruit.

The case therefore rests of points 6 to 8. Points 6 and 7 seem to add up to a winning case but someone needs to have done the accounting to prove it. Where are the reports from the LHC that count the economic benefit it brought to each country? Of course they don’t exists because if they did the politicians would just start squabbling about who got the best money’s worth.

This leaves the physicists the job of proving point 8. With the LHC world safety was done as an afterthought well after the project was already underway. Only physicists themselves are qualified to make the risk assessment and they have an obvious conflict of interest, so their case needs to be very convincing. For the LHC they were able to show that the collisions they were planning had been done before by cosmic rays in Earth’s atmosphere a million times over in the past without an obvious catastrophe. Given the increased energy and luminosity required for the VLHC this is going to be reduced to a much less convincing factor ( I dare not say how small I think this will be in case someone starts quoting it.) The case was also made that even more physics has been tested by neutron stars but it is less obvious that neutron stars  are as vulnerable to physics accidents as Earth or that they are not sometimes destroyed. I do not think for one second that a VLHC is dangerous but we can only set limits on its safety and there is a chance this point could prove a problem. Again the chance of getting round this will increase if the country hosting the VLHC is not too democratic but that may still leave a lot of people upset around the world.

I do very much want to see the VLHC built but I have no idea how insurmountable the difficulties are going to be. I think it really depends on whether China takes a big interest. There are however many alternative experiments that could lead to progress in physics if the VLHC does not get approved. They may even be cheaper and possible in a much shorter time-scale. As I have remarked before I am especially in favour of the project to build a large proton decay experiment in the antarctic using a scaled up version of the ice-cube. I am disappointed that this experiment is not getting more support from theorists.  I dont think we should be talking down alternatives just to talk up the VLHC or we may end up with nothing.

13 Responses to Will the 100 TeV Hadron Collider get built?

  1. Physics is by far my favorite subject, and I am for spending all the money in the world on it. However, in this case I am very uncomfortable with the idea, I maybe wrong but I have a feeling (with some evidence) that the result of these machines are driven by politics(of money and authority) rather than actual physics. They will make up some results to justify the money.

    So far experiments have been done to determine the mass of the electron and the proton(elusive quarks) with no clear explanation for them or the fundamental constants. and there is no proper theory for them, I don’t think VLHC promise any explanation for these long standing main problems.

    I think if such money was available to be burned I think it will be much more useful to spend it on cures of diseases( almost unlimited numbers) which are ravaging the human race. Most of these diseases have no cure and many they are just “controlled”. It is really astonishing the under funding for the medical industry. Companies usually spend money when there is a quick large sum of money to be made but not to find solutions for hard problems. Even the universities play the money game.

  2. Robert L. Oldershaw says:

    Money and new colliders are not the BEST way to get real progress in physics.

    We need new thinking and serious questioning of dubious assumptions by a NEW generation of physics students who have nothing vested in the pseudo-scientific games being played today by a bunch of celebrity physicists who have sold their scientific souls for a chance to strut in the limelight and collect grant money.

    Holographic Universe? Dark Matter Killed The Dinosaurs! A Multiverse With Whatever-You-Want Physics.

    Where the hell is this metaphysics going?
    Why are we not laughing at these fools?

  3. Daniel Rocha says:

    Here’s an idea:

    Let’s start a crowd funding of the 100 TeV collider!


    I suggest an initial pledge of 5 billion!

  4. Handsome Fella says:

    Robert, have you ever seen the old man yelling at the clouds in The Simpsons? Not that your points aren’t valid … incredulity abounds

    • Robert L. Oldershaw says:

      I would say that credulity abounds in certain segments of the theoretical physics community.

      Check out the most recent thread at Woit’s Not Even Wrong.

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      I sometimes find myself agreeing with Woit on some points about overhyped expectations but it is a huge leap from there to his claim that superstring theory has failed as a unified theory or that the landscape/multiverse is unscientific. His reasoning to jump that gap seems to be based more on rhetoric and repetition than any kind of logic.

      I will always side with the people who are making real progress in understanding how these theories link together mathematically rather than those who just offer negative criticism. The empirical confirmation or refutation will come when we understand the theory fully and can see how to make the necessary observations, not before.

      Meanwhile alternatives can be offered and no matter how much they are ignored now they will be recognized eventually if they are correct and recorded in sufficient detail in any medium including viXra.

      • Robert L. Oldershaw says:

        In SCIENCE, as opposed to pseudo-science, definitive predictions and testing those predictions is critical.

        That is where Woit and Baggott and many others say string/brane theory, multiverse fantasies, anthropic pretzel logic, holographic universe fantasies, etc. have failed miserably.

        If you like Aristotelian metaphysics, go ahead and gorge yourself.
        There is plenty of the, ahhhh, stuff around these days in what passes for theoretical physics.

  5. Tony Smith says:

    Philip refers to “… understanding how …[string]… theories link together mathematically …”.

    Would that include consideration of various physical interpretations of the math structures?

    For example, what about interpreting strings as world-lines of particles
    closed strings as virtual loops
    open strings as “free” (with respect to a given interaction) particles
    then interpreting their interaction as due to a Bohm-type quantum potential ?

    There are probably many other examples.

    My point is whether physics theory groups nowadays are (or should be)
    open-minded enough to get post-docs or grad students to consider
    and evaluate such out-of-the-box things
    particularly whether a nice clear refutation of such things that do not work
    would be something that those-that-hire would value as much or more
    than work on minimal extensions of fashionable ideas.


    • Philip Gibbs says:

      There have been many papers written about string theory yet there are probably lots of things that have not been fully explored. It is just a very rich subject mathematically. The work on AdS/CFT and scattering theory shows how much there is still to understand about the fundamentals of the relations between string theory and quantum field theory.

  6. Robert L. Oldershaw says:

    The wise man does not argue with a creationist or a string theory buff. Both are more into faith than the messy and inconvenient physical world.

    • Here here Robert, once as a gag I phoned the “Institute for creation science”. Some elderly woman scoffed when I asked what part of their Institute relates to science. Their headquarters are in Dallas TX right next to all the strip clubs. lol. I want to write so new papers but not feeling too inspired…

  7. FYI Phil: excursionset.com/blog/2014/3/15/the-smoking-gnu … http://spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=42751

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      Thanks, yes I saw that. If past experience of such announcements is anything to go by they will tell us that tensor modes in the CMB are ruled out 🙂

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