The Physics Beyond Colliders (PBC) study was launched in 2016 to explore the opportunities offered by CERN’s unique accelerator and experimental-area complex to address some of the outstanding questions in particle physics through experiments that are complementary to the high-energy frontier. Following the recommendations of the 2020 update of the European strategy for particle physics, the CERN directorate renewed the mandate of the PBC study, continuing it as a long-term activity.
The fourth PBC annual workshop took place at CERN from 7 to 9 November 2022. The aim was to review the status of the studies, with a focus on the programmes under consideration for the start of operations after Long Shutdown 3 (LS3), scheduled for 2026–2029.
The North Area (NA) at CERN, where experiments are driven by beams from the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), is at the heart of many present and proposed explorations for physics beyond the Standard Model. The NA includes an underground cavern (ECN3), which can host unique high-energy/high-intensity proton beams. Several proposals for experiments have been made, all of which require higher intensity proton beams than are currently available. It is therefore timely to identify the synergies and implications of a future ECN3 high-intensity programme on the otherwise ongoing NA technical consolidation programme.
The following proposals are being considered within the PBC study group:
• HIKE (High Intensity Kaon Experiment) is a proposed expansion of the current NA62 programme to study extremely rare decays of charged kaons and, in a second phase, those of neutral kaons. This would be complemented by searches for visible decays of feebly interacting particles (FIPs) that could emerge on-axis from the dump of an intense proton beam within a thick absorber that would contain all other known particles, except muons and neutrinos;
• SHADOWS (Search for Hidden And Dark Objects With the SPS) would search for visible FIP decays off-axis and could run in parallel to HIKE when operated in beam-dump mode. The proposed detector is compact and employs existing technologies to meet the challenges of reducing the muon background;
• SHiP (Search for Hidden Particles) would allow a full investigation of hidden sectors in the GeV mass range. Comprehensive design studies for SHiP and the Beam Dump Facility (BDF) in a dedicated experimental area were published in preparation for the European strategy update. During 2021, an analysis of alternative locations using existing infrastructure at CERN revealed ECN3 to be the most promising option;
• Finally, TauFV (Tau Flavour Violation) would conduct searches for lepton-flavour violating tau-lepton decays.
The HIKE, SHADOWS and BDF/SHiP collaborations have recently submitted letters of intent describing their proposals for experiments in ECN3. The technical feasibility of the experiments, their physics potential and implications for the NA consolidation are being evaluated in view of a possible decision by the beginning of 2023. A review of the experimental programme in the proposed high-intensity facility will take place during 2023, in parallel with a detailed comparison of the sensitivity to FIPs in a worldwide context.
A vibrant programme
The NA could also host a vibrant ion-physics programme after LS3, with NA60++ aiming to measure the caloric curve of the strong-force phase transition with lead–ion beams, and NA61++ proposing to explore the onset of the deconfined nuclear medium, extending the scan in the momentum/ion space with collisions of lighter ion beams. The conceptual implementation of such schemes in the accelerators and experimental area is being studied and the results, together with the analysis of the physics potential, are expected during 2023.
The search for long-lived particles with dedicated experiments and the exploration of fixed-target physics is also open at the LHC. The proposed forward-physics facility, located in a cavern that could be built at a distance of 600 m along the beam direction from LHC Interaction Point 1, would take advantage of the large flux of high-energy particles produced in the very forward direction in LHC collisions. It is proposed to host a comprehensive set of detectors (FASER2, FASERν2, AdvSND, FORMOSA, FLArE) to explore a broad range of new physics and to study the highest energy neutrinos produced by accelerators. A conceptual design report of the facility, including detector design, background analysis and mitigation measures, civil engineering and integration studies is in preparation. Small prototypes of the MATHUSLA, ANUBIS and CODEX-b detectors aiming at the search for long-lived particles at large angles from LHC collisions are also being built for installation during the current LHC run.
The North Area at CERN is at the heart of many present and proposed explorations for physics beyond the Standard Model
A gas-storage cell (SMOG2) was installed in front of the LHCb experiment during the last LHC long shutdown, opening the way to high-precision fixed-target measurements at the LHC. The storage cell enhances the density of the gas and therefore the rate of the collisions by up to two orders of magnitude as compared to the previous internal gas target. SMOG2 has been successfully commissioned with neon gas, demonstrating that it can be operated in parallel to LHCb. Future developments include the injection of different types of gases and a polarised gas target to explore nucleon spin-physics at the LHC.
Fixed-target experiments are also being developed that would extract protons from LHC beams by channelling the beam halo with a bent crystal. The extracted protons would impinge on a target and be used for measurements of proton structure functions (“single crystal setup”) or estimation of the magnetic and electric dipole moments of short-lived heavy baryons (“double crystal setup”). In the latter case, the measurement would be based on the baryon spin precession in the strong electric field of a second bent crystal installed immediately downstream from the baryon-production proton target. A proof-of-principle experiment of the double-crystal setup is being designed for installation in the LHC to determine the channelling efficiency for long crystals at TeV energies, as well as to demonstrate the control and management of the secondary halo and validate the estimate of the achievable luminosity.
The technology know-how at CERN can also benefit non-accelerator experiments
The technology know-how and experience available at CERN can also benefit non-accelerator experiments such as the Atom Interferometer Observatory and Network (AION), proposed to be installed in one of the shafts at Point 4 of the LHC for mid-frequency gravitational-wave detection and ultra-light dark-matter searches, as well as the development of superconducting cavities for the Relic Axion Detector Experimental Setup (RADES) and for the heterodyne detection of axion-like particles.
During the workshop, progress on the possible applications of a gamma factory at CERN, as well as the status of the design of a Charged-Particle EDM Prototype Ring and of the R&D for novel monitored or tagged neutrino beamlines, were also presented.