Wanted: One quantum searchlight | University of Oxford
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Wanted: One quantum searchlight

Pete Wilton

While astronomers have welcomed the stay of execution for UK involvement in the Gemini telescope, there's been no such good news for particle physicists: in fact it gets worse with recent reports confirming that the UK will withdraw from the International Linear Collider (ILC). I've reported the background to this story before but felt compelled to return to the plight of the ILC. Big international facilities - especially those that haven't been built yet - aren't always easy to care about. People ask: why should we spend millions of pounds looking for things we aren't sure even exist? I'd urge anyone who thinks this to visit the excellent ILC site describing what it is and why it's needed. 'Exploring the Quantum Universe with accelerators is like sweeping a searchlight methodically to find something small in the dark' it reads, 'The ILC is our searchlight to illuminate the unknown. We know about some of the things we are looking for: dark matter, the Higgs boson, extra dimensions, and superparticles. And we know where to direct the searchlight to find them - and possibly discover things along the way that we didn't expect. Up until now, our searchlights have not reached far enough. By building the ILC we will have one that does.' Perhaps the problem is one of perception: that with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) already being built we don't think we need another expensive accelerator, but the LHC and the ILC are very different beasts. The LHC's muscular proton-smashing could perhaps be likened to flashes of lightning that illuminate the entire quantum landscape but all-too-quickly fade. The ILC's searchlight is needed to follow-up the clues provided by the LHC, to properly illuminate the detail and complexity of our universe at its most basic level: as Oxford's Brian Foster (European Director of the ILC) said, the LHC is 'likely to raise questions that only the ILC can answer'. Put this way we are in danger of acting out the plot of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in reverse: by building a machine that will provide us with the ultimate question to Life, the Universe and Everything but failing to construct one that will give us the ultimate answer. [Hint: It's probably not 42].