Exclusion of particle collider in Five-Year Plan 'not fatal'

By Cheng Yingqi | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-16 07:45

Research team must wait until 2020 to reapply for 800 million yuan in State funding

The decision not to include a proposed next-generation particle collider in China's latest development plan is a setback for the project, but not a fatal blow, according to senior scientists.

A team of physicists submitted a preliminary conceptual design report for the Circular Electron Positron Collider in June in a bid to secure a place in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) as a large-scale scientific facility and up to 800 million yuan ($115 million) in research funding.

However, the proposal failed to pass a review by the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planner, according to details released by the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of High Energy Physics, the driving force behind the collider project.

The research team received a 35 million yuan grant from the Ministry of Science and Technology, but the NDRC's decision means the team will need to wait until 2020 for another chance to land such a significant injection of State funds.

Wang Yifang, director of the institute, said in an exclusive interview that he remains upbeat about the collider's prospects, but knows time could be of the essence, with rival projects in the pipeline overseas.

"This is a very promising facility that will help China, and the world, make great discoveries," he said, adding that the collider will be an international project with 30 percent of funding coming from international investors. "We believe this is a great opportunity for everyone, as our understanding of the universe will be substantially deepened."

Exclusion of particle collider in Five-Year Plan 'not fatal'

Different from other scientific fields that flourish in multiple research institutes worldwide, the development of high-energy physics depends on large-scale scientific facilities - and in the past 30 years that has been the European Organization for Nuclear Research, more commonly known as CERN.

With the world's largest and most sophisticated collider, the Large Hadron Collider, the organization attracted more than 6,500 particle physicists - half of the world's total - to work for it and successfully made almost all of the important discoveries in particle physics to date.

In July 2012, CERN announced the discovery of the long sought-after Higgs boson, the so-called God particle, regarded as the crucial link to explain why other elementary particles have mass. The discovery received a Nobel Prize a year later.

Inspired by the success, physicists from China, Europe and Japan proposed their own next-generation colliders to study the Higgs boson in detail.

While China's CEPC has many advanced features, it will compete with Japan's International Linear Collider and CERN's Future Circular Collider, which could also begin construction between 2020 and 2030.

"Whoever builds the largest collider will be the international leader in particle physics," said Yuan Lanfeng, an associate researcher of the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale.

"China has a strategic opportunity to build a large collider in the next five to 10 years," he said.

"At the current development stage of particle physics, there can be only one most sophisticated collider in the world. If a country builds one, other countries will have to change their original plans because it is meaningless to build two colliders of such scale," he said.

Wang agreed and added, "We need to come up with a competitive machine in order to gain necessary support from the international high-energy physics community, and we need to do it quickly."

In September, Yang Zhenning, the 94-year-old Chinese-American physicist and Nobel laureate, published an article online that argued against building a large collider in China, citing the huge potential cost and stating that the nation has more pressing concerns, such as poverty alleviation.

Wang said it is unknown whether Yang's comments influenced the government's decision, but added that "many people may not be aware of the tremendous role high-energy physics plays in promoting a country's industrial level, but I believe the decision-makers took that into consideration".

China's first collider, the Beijing Electron Positron Collider, boosted industrial development in the field of microwaves, magnets, vacuum technique, precision machinery, electronics and computer technology. In the latest upgrade of the collider, completed in 2009, 85 percent of the equipment came from Chinese suppliers.

"Yang has said that most of the equipment for the Circular Electron Positron Collider will come from foreign suppliers, but that is not true," Wang said. "For such a large project, it would be impossible to purchase most parts from overseas."

Yang did not respond to emails from China Daily.

 Exclusion of particle collider in Five-Year Plan 'not fatal'

The Compact Muon Solenoid, a general-purpose detector, is seen at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland.Denis Balibouse / Reuters

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