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Is China Building a Circular Electron Positron Collider Such a Good Idea?

When completed, the Chinese hope that the CEPC will generate millions of Higgs boson particles.  (Image:  Image Editor via flicker  CC BY 2.0)
When completed, the Chinese hope that the CEPC will generate millions of Higgs boson particles. (Image: Image Editor via flicker CC BY 2.0)

China has announced that the construction of the world’s largest particle collider will begin before 2020. The particle collider will also be the most powerful on Earth, and will be between 50 km and 100 km in circumference, which would be double or quadruple that of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern (LHC).

With the completion of the initial conceptual design of the collider, China plans to start construction on the first phase of the Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC) between 2020 and 2025, with the second phase to start in 2040.

Watch The Large Hadron Collider Explained, by DNews:

The director of the Institute of High Energy Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wang Yifang told state run China Daily: “We have completed the initial conceptual design and organized international peer review recently, and the final conceptual design will be completed by the end of 2016.”

When completed, the Chinese hope that the CEPC will generate millions of Higgs boson particles. The aim of all this is to gain insight into the “God particle” that scientists are hoping will give some answers about dark matter.

Watch Mysteries of matter at the LHC, by The Royal Institution:

The LHC has only been able to spot hundreds of Higgs boson particles, and this is not enough to learn about their structure and other features.

Wang said: “The technical route we chose is different from LHC. While LHC smashes together protons, it generates Higgs particles together with many other particles.”

“The proposed CEPC, however, collides electrons and positrons to create an extremely clean environment that only produces Higgs particles. The LHC is hitting its limits of energy level, it seems not possible to escalate the energy dramatically at the existing facility,” he explained.

It may seem like a good idea when you first read about this, but when you have eminent physicists like Stephen Hawking showing concern, then we should look at the unforeseeable pitfalls.

In the book Starmus, which is a collection of lectures by scientists, Hawking wrote:

‘The God particle found by CERN could destroy the universe.’

He writes that the Higgs Boson could become unstable at very high energy levels, and may have the potential to trigger a “catastrophic vacuum decay which would cause space and time to collapse and… we would not have any warning to the dangers.” However Hawking is referring to a particle accelerator that would need to be larger than earth itself.

The problem is scientists really don’t know what will happen, and can we trust China to risk the Earth in the pursuit of being first?

Although Wang was quoted as saying: “This is a machine for the world and by the world: Not a Chinese one,” he had also noted that physicists had come from around the globe to help China with the project, which has been peer reviewed by an international team.

Given China’s history of misinformation, can we trust them to tell the whole truth if something went wrong?

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