February 15, 2021

A New Era of Accelerator Science

PNNL’s Jan Strube among U.S. leaders defining new International Linear Collider experiments

Conceptual view of the International Linear Collider

A conceptual view of the proposed International Linear Collider tunnel.

(Conceptual image by Rey.Hori | KEK)

Even before the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland detected the elusive subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson in 2012, scientists around the world were already hard at work planning for the next particle accelerator. Arguably some of the most sophisticated scientific machines on the planet, these engineering marvels take decades to plan, build, test, and start.

Such is the case for the proposed International Linear Collider, or ILC.

“To fully understand the Higgs particle’s role in nature and go beyond our current theories, we need even more sensitivity and precision, and that’s what the ILC and its experiments are designed to do,” said Jan Strube, a physicist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). His research pairs advanced computing with high energy physics to optimize the detection capabilities of current and future experiments.

Headshot of PNNL physicist Jan Strube.
Physicist Jan Strube (photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Strube also holds a joint appointment at the University of Oregon’s Institute for Fundamental Science and is one of the leading researchers in the United States working to define the experimental requirements for the new ILC to achieve the desired precision.

The ILC, envisioned by scientists to operate in Japan, is under discussion by the United States, Japanese, and European governments. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) expressed support for the ILC during a workshop organized by the international physics community in October 2020.

In an article for the CERN Courier published in January 2021, Strube and colleagues from Germany and Japan outline the future of particle physics research using linear colliders, which could improve our understanding of dark matter and help answer fundamental questions about the universe. The Courier covers high energy physics efforts around the world and is published by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, one of the largest and most respected centers for scientific research and home of the LHC.

Final proof for the Standard Model

The Standard Model of physics, established in the 1960s, is an encompassing theory that explains three of the four fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism, weak and strong interactions, and gravity. Discovery of the Higgs boson by the LHC confirmed the mathematical equations for the first three of these forces, except for a couple of glaring omissionsan explanation for dark matter being one of them, Strube said.

Scientists believe they can fill the gaps with more precise measurements from electron-positron collisions in a “Higgs Factory” focused on producing mostly Higgs bosons in a clean laboratory for more detailed study.

The ILC—designed as a straight tunnel 21 km long for the initial stage of the facility—provides a clean, precise environment for measuring miniscule changes in energy from particle collisions. The tunnel can be extended up to 50 km to achieve higher energies for unique physics measurements beyond the Higgs boson.

Schematic of the ILC damping ring
In the proposed ILC, electron and positron particle beams generated in the damping ring would swing around each end and hurtle in a straight shot to the center, colliding in front of the detectors. Each accelerator arm could be lengthened for higher energies. (Conceptual image by Rey.Hori | KEK)

Research and development for the ILC detectors has focused on low-mass tracking and high granularity sensors for unprecedented resolution. As described in the Courier article, the ILC’s polarized beams and high luminosity will lead to at least one order of magnitude improvement over the current knowledge for many Standard Model observables.

In addition to answering questions about the fundamental laws of nature, the technology developed through the work could lead to further advances in medicine, industrial processes, and research facilitiesall priorities for DOE.

A new phase for the ILC

The European Strategy for Particle Physics recently prioritized the first phase of the next accelerator as a “Higgs Factory.” Initial steps for a proposed ILC would involve working toward a preparatory laboratory for technical coordination prior to construction while continuing inter-governmental discussions on matters related to governance, resource sharing, and operations.

For nearly a century, DOE has stewarded collaborative accelerator research as a prime example of their unique capabilities for conducting “science at scale.” This teaming approach has led to advances in a variety of fields, such as fusion, high-performance computing, artificial intelligence, and others.

If the ILC were to move forward, Strube anticipates PNNL may contribute expertise in machine learning and data analytics. These capabilities could enhance a variety of experimental facets including simulation and modeling software, data throughput and management, and facility operations. 

Strube envisions the new accelerator has the potential for discovering and unveiling the nature of dark matter, a top priority in particle physics research both at PNNL and around the world. According to the planned timeline, if the ILC were to proceed, the facility would undergo commissioning around 2035.


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science. For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: February 15, 2021