By Michael Banks
Since the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded this week to three Japanese-born researchers, it seems like Japan has gone particle-physics crazy, or at least the Japanese government has.
So much so that Japan now wants to host the next big experiment in particle physics – the International Linear Collider (ILC). The ILC is the successor to the $8bn proton smasher the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva that switched on, and then off, following a magnet failure almost a month ago.
According to a design study unveiled in early 2007, the machine is estimated to cost $8bn with the host country expected to pay $1.8bn – around 22% of the total cost – to dig the 40 km tunnel and supply electricity and water. When operational, the ILC will smash together electrons and its anti-particle twin, positrons, as they are accelerated to near the speed of light.
After the Nobel Prize was announced on Tuesday, a Japanese government spokesman said they will use the prize as “a tailwind” to advance its involvement with physics research. This comes as good news to particle physicists who saw the US cut its funding for the ILC last year by 75% to $15m, and with the UK now only carrying out basic research into the project following a funding crisis at one of its main research councils.
Indeed, the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) – set up by the US Department
of Energy last year to plan the next decade in high-energy physics – published a report in June saying the US should have “a significant role in the ILC wherever it is built”, but stopped short of saying that it should be constructed in the US.
“If the Japanese do make such a strong bid, I think it is highly unlikely to be opposed by the US, although it might catalyse other interest, potentially China or Russia,” says particle physicist Brian Foster from Oxford University. “However, I think the Japanese would be in a very strong position and, after ITER, in some sense they are ‘owed’ the next major international project.”
So maybe the time is right for Japan to stake its claim.