WHEN the Large Hadron Collider was switched on last September - and ignominiously switched off a few days later - it was the subject of the kind of media frenzy usually reserved for rock stars and celebrity models. These, we were told, were the first moments of the most complex machine ever built. What we were not told was that something similar might never be built again.
At issue is the sheer scale of the project. The LHC took some 20 years to design and build, and cost around $9 billion. The price didn't even include the 27-kilometre circular tunnel that houses the machine underneath the French-Swiss border near Geneva - that was built a couple of decades earlier for a previous accelerator.
Some day, particle physicists will want to upgrade the LHC to an even bigger, better and more expensive model. In fact, they are already working on a successor known as the International Linear Collider. If the public baulks at paying the price, physicists can kiss goodbye to their dreams of teasing apart the laws of nature by smashing together particles at high energies. Given the current economic turmoil, the ILC might never be built.
Perhaps it won't need to be. In laboratories around the world, the outline of an entirely new design of accelerator is being sketched that could revolutionise the economics of particle physics. Out are the many-kilometre-long tunnels; in is a compact construction a fraction of the size. More intriguingly still, this new breed of accelerator is being conjured up from little more than thin air.
hmmmm. New Scientist weighed against some of my collabies in it. hmmmm.