Our top priority

After three years of LHC running, we are still at the beginning of a long research programme with our flagship facility, and hopefully 4 July 2012 will go down in history as the date of one of many landmark discoveries spanning several years. CERN’s top priority for the next decade and more is the full exploitation of the LHC. With speculation about potential future facilities mounting in the light of the discovery of a new Higgs-like particle, it’s important to state that most clearly. Of course, this will rely on continued global collaboration, and it’s important that CERN engage constructively with other regions.


It is important to plan ahead, particularly since the lead times for new projects in particle physics are long, and our field is increasingly global in nature. That’s why the European particle physics community is currently engaged in updating its long-term strategy. Planning ahead allowed us to be ready technologically to build the LHC when the time was right to ask our Member States for funding in the mid-1990s. And planning ahead has brought linear collider technology to the point at which such a machine could be built today, if the political will were there to do so.

It is this kind of foresight that, coupled with the new impetus given by the discovery announced in July by ATLAS and CMS, that has allowed the Japanese physics community to state that they are ready to build a linear collider Higgs factory. Japan has recently developed its strategy for particle physics, and placed a linear collider as its top priority. Japanese physicists brought this news to the European particle physics strategy meeting in Krakow in September and, when I was in Japan recently, I heard it echoed in the highest scientific and political circles.

Japan’s proposal is to host a linear collider to be built in two stages: the first as a Higgs factory, the second to go to higher energy. The majority of the funding would come from Japan with the rest being contributed by other regions. This would be a bold step for Japan. But even if construction were to begin tomorrow, it would be a decade before such a machine were operational: it would come on stream with the LHC about two thirds of the way through its operational lifetime.

I’m frequently asked about CERN’s position towards the Japanese proposal, and my answer is that we have to wait for the European strategy process to run its course. Europe’s engagement with other regions, both for the exploitation of the LHC and for Europe’s participation in projects elsewhere, is one of the key points being addressed by the European Strategy Group. All of the options, from a lepton collider or electron-proton collider to a Super LHC and ambitious neutrino facilities have to be considered by the strategy group and distilled into a coherent proposal. This will be presented to the CERN Council in March for discussion and in May for approval. For its meeting in May, Council will go to Brussels so that the strategy can also be presented to European science ministers assembling for the European Competitiveness Council. In the meantime, global particle physics will continue to relish the performance of the LHC, its experiments and the computing that are producing such a rich stream of new results.

Rolf Heuer