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Particle colliders: accelerating innovation

8 May 2019

Around 100 researchers, academics and industry delegates joined a co-innovation workshop in Liverpool, UK, on 22 March to discuss the strategic R&D programme for a Future Circular Collider (FCC) and associated benefits for industry. Motivated by the FCC study, the aim of the event was to identify joint R&D opportunities across accelerator projects and disciplines.

New particle colliders provide industry with powerful test-beds with a high publicity factor. Well-controlled environments allow novel technologies and processes to be piloted, and SMEs are ideal partners to bring these technologies – which include superconducting magnets, cryogenics, civil engineering, detector development, energy efficiency and novel materials and material processing techniques – to maturity.

Short talks about FCC-related areas for innovation, examples of successful technology-transfer projects at CERN, as well as current and future funding opportunities stimulated interesting discussions. Several areas were identified as bases for co-innovation, including resource-efficient tunnelling, the transfer of bespoke machine-learning techniques from particle physics to industry, detector R&D, cooling and data handling. The notes from all the working groups will be used to establish joint funding bids between participants.

The co-innovation workshop was part of a bigger event, “Particle Colliders – Accelerating Innovation”, which was devoted to the benefits of fundamental science to society and industry, co-hosted by the University of Liverpool and CERN together with partners from the FCC and H2020 EuroCirCol projects, and supported by EU-funded MSCA training networks. Almost 1000 researchers and industrialists from across Europe, including university and high-school students, took part. An industry exhibition allowed more than 60 high-tech companies to showcase their latest products, also serving university students as a careers fair, and more than a dozen different outreach activities were available to younger students.

A separate event, held at CERN on 4 and 5 March, reviewed the FCC physics capabilities following the publication of the FCC conceptual design report in January (CERN Courier January/February 2019 p8). The FCC study envisages the construction of a new 100 km-circumference tunnel at CERN hosting an intensity-frontier lepton collider (FCC-ee) as a first step, followed by an energy-frontier hadron machine (FCC-hh). It offers substantial and model-independent studies of the Higgs boson by extending the range of measurable Higgs properties to its total width and self-coupling. Moreover, the combination of superior precision and energy reach allows a complementary mix of indirect and direct probes of new physics. For example, FCC-ee would enable the Higgs couplings to the Z boson to be measured with an accuracy better than 0.17%, while FCC-hh will determine model-independent ttH coupling to <1%.

Physics discussions were accompanied by a status report of the overall FCC project, reviewing the technological challenges for both accelerator and detectors, the project implementation strategy, and cost estimates. Construction of the more technologically ready FCC-ee could start by 2028, delivering first physics beams a decade later, right after the end of the HL-LHC programme. Another important aspect of the two-day meeting was the need for further improving theoretical predictions to match the huge step in experimental precision possible at the FCC.

Planning now for a 70-year-long programme may sound a remote goal. However, as Alain Blondel of the University of Geneva remarked in the concluding talk of the conference, the first report on the LHC dates back more than 40 years. “Progress in knowledge has no price,” he said. “The FCC sets ambitious but feasible goals for the global community resembling previous leaps in the long history of our field.”

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