The LHC is the largest machine ever built by humans — here’s the plan for an even bigger one

International linear collider ilc

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a giant 17-mile underground loop full of supercooled magnets, thirty-foot particle detectors, and miles of accelerator tubes.

It’s the largest machine that humans have ever built.

But there are plans for even larger machines.

One, a whopping 50-mile-long circular particle accelerator with energy collisions nearly 10 times as powerful as the LHC, might be a little too ambitious for the near future. We don’t even know how to build magnets capable of accelerating particles to that kind of energy level.

The second idea, however, is a 20-mile-long straight line accelerator and it has a good chance of being built in the next few years.

That machine is called the International Linear Collider (ILC). Its structure is just as the name suggests: a long tube that collides electrons with their antimatter partners called positrons.

The ILC has to be a straight path because electrons lose energy every time they round a corner. The LHC successfully accelerates protons, but an electron racing around its ring would run out of energy in no time.

The ILC will fire an electron from one end and a positron from the other end. They will meet in the middle and annihilate each other. Physicists will analyse the collision data to solve mysteries like dark matter and investigate whether or not multiple universes exist.

You can see what the collisions will look like in the gif below:

International linear collider

The cost is an estimated $US7.8 billion compared the $US10 billion it took to build the LHC. Engineers have already worked through all the technical plans.

Now the ILC just needs to secure a chunk of funding and a construction site. Japan may be stepping up to the plate.

The LHC brought us the web and the Higgs boson. Who knows what the ILC could bring.

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