Physicists in Europe have published a 250-page “briefing book” to help map out the next major paths in fundamental exploration. Compiled by an expert physics-preparatory group set up by the CERN Council, the document is the result of an intense effort to capture the status and prospects for experiment, theory, accelerators, computing and other vital machinery of high-energy physics.
Last year, the European Strategy Group (ESG) — which includes scientific delegates from CERN’s member and associate-member states, directors and representatives of major European laboratories and organisations and invitees from outside Europe — was tasked with formulating the next update of the European strategy for particle physics. Following a call for input in September 2018, which attracted 160 submissions, an open symposium was held in Granada, Spain, on 13-16 May at which more than 600 delegates discussed the potential merits and challenges of the proposed research programmes. The ESG briefing book distills input from the working groups and the Granada symposium to provide an objective scientific summary.
“This document is the result of months of work by hundreds of people, and every effort has been made to objectively analyse the submitted inputs,” says ESG chair Halina Abramowicz of Tel Aviv University. “It does not take a position on the strategy process itself, or on individual projects, but rather is intended to represent the forward thinking of the community and be the main input to the drafting session in Germany in January.”
An important element of the European strategy update is to consider which major collider should follow the LHC. The Granada symposium revealed there is clear support for an electron–positron collider to study the Higgs boson in greater detail, but four possible options at different stages of maturity exist: an International Linear Collider (ILC) in Japan, a Compact Linear Collider (CLIC) or Future Circular Collider (FCC-ee) at CERN, and a Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC) in China. The briefing book states that, in a global context, CLIC and FCC-ee are competing with the ILC and with CEPC. As Higgs factories, however, the report finds all four to have similar reach, albeit with different time schedules and with differing potentials for the study of physics topics at other energies.
Also considered in depth are design studies in Europe for colliders that push the energy frontier, including a 3 TeV CLIC and a 100 TeV circular hadron collider (FCC-hh). The briefing book details the estimated timescales to develop some of these technologies, observing that the development of 16 T dipole magnets for FCC-hh will take a comparable time (about 20 years) to that projected for novel acceleration technologies such as plasma-wakefield techniques to reach conceptual designs.
“The Granada symposium and the briefing book mention the urgent need for intensifying accelerator R&D, including that for muon colliders,” says Lenny Rivkin of Paul Scherrer Institut, who was co-convener of the chapter on accelerator science and technology. “Another important aspect of the strategy update is to recognize the potential impact of the development of accelerator and associated technology on the progress in other branches of science, such as astroparticle physics, cosmology and nuclear physics.”
The bulk of the briefing book details the current physics landscape and prospects for progress, with chapters devoted to electroweak physics, strong interactions, flavour physics, neutrinos, cosmic messengers, physics beyond the Standard Model, and dark-sector exploration. A preceding chapter about theory emphasises the importance of keeping theoretical research in fundamental physics “free and diverse” and “not only limited to the goals of ongoing experimental projects”. It points to historical success stories such as Peter Higgs’ celebrated 1964 paper, which had the purely theoretical aim to show that Gilbert’s theorem is invalid for gauge theories at a time when applications to electroweak interactions were well beyond the horizon.
“While an amazing amount of progress has been made in the past seven years since the Higgs boson discovery, our knowledge of the couplings of the Higgs-boson to the W and Z and to third-generation charged fermions is quite imprecise, and the couplings of the Higgs boson to the other charged fermions and to itself are unmeasured,” says Beate Heinemann of DESY, who co-convened the report’s electroweak chapter. “The imperative to study this unique particle further derives from its special properties and the special role it might play in resolving some of the current puzzles of the universe, for example dark matter, the matter-antimatter asymmetry or the hierarchy problem.”
Readers are reminded that the discovery of neutrino oscillations constitutes a “laboratory” proof of physics beyond the Standard Model. The briefing book also notes the significant role played by Europe, via CERN, in neutrino-experiment R&D since the last strategy update concluded in 2013. Flavour physics too should remain at the forefront of the European strategy, it argues, noting that the search for flavour and CP violation in the quark and lepton sectors at different energy frontiers “has a great potential to lead to new physics at moderate cost”. An independent determination of the proton structure is needed if present and future hadron colliders are to be turned into precision machines, reports the chapter on strong interactions, and a diverse global programme based on fixed-target experiments as well as dedicated electron-proton colliders is in place.
Europe also has the opportunity to play a leading role in the searches for dark matter “by fully exploiting the opportunities offered by the CERN facilities, such as the SPS, the potential Beam Dump Facility, and the LHC itself, and by supporting the programme of searches for axions to be hosted at other European institutions”. The briefing book notes the strong complementarity between accelerator and astrophysical searches for dark matter, and the demand for deeper technology sharing between particle and astroparticle physics.
The diversity of the experimental physics programme is a strong feature of the strategy update. The briefing book lists outstanding puzzles that did not change in the post-Run 2 LHC era – such as the origin of electroweak symmetry breaking, the nature of the Higgs boson, the pattern of quark and lepton masses and the neutrino’s nature – that can also be investigated by smaller scale experiments at lower energies, as explored by CERN’s dedicated Physics Beyond Colliders initiative.
Finally, in addressing the vital roles of detector & accelerator development, computing and instrumentation, the report acknowledges both the growing importance of energy efficiency and the risks posed by “the limited amount of success in attracting, developing and retaining instrumentation and computing experts”, urging that such activities be recognized correctly as fundamental research activities. The strong support in computing and infrastructure is also key to the success of the high-luminosity LHC which, the report states, will see “a very dynamic programme occupying a large fraction of the community” during the next two decades – including a determination of the couplings between the Higgs boson and Standard Model particles “at the percent level”.
Following a drafting session to take place in Bad Honnef, Germany, on 20-24 January, the ESG is due to submit its recommendations for the approval of the CERN Council in May 2020 in Budapest, Hungary.
“Now comes the most challenging part of the strategy update process: how to turn the exciting and well-motivated scientific proposals of the community into a viable and coherent strategy which will ensure progress and a bright future for particle physics in Europe,” says Abramowicz. “Its importance cannot be overestimated, coming at a time when the field faces several crossroads and decisions about how best to maintain progress in fundamental exploration, potentially for generations to come.”