When muons collide
|Illustration: Sandbox Studio
Editor's note: This article is featured in the newest issue of symmetry magazine.
A new type of particle collider known as a muon collider, considered a wild idea a decade ago, is winning over skeptics as scientists find solutions to the machine's many technological challenges.
When Fermilab physicist Steve Geer agreed to perform a calculation as part of a muon collider task force 10 years ago, he imagined he would show that the collider’s technical challenges were too difficult to be solved and move on to other matters. But as he delved further into the problem, he realized that the obstacles he had envisioned could in principle be overcome.
“I started as a skeptic,” he says. “But the more I studied it, I realized it might be a solvable problem.”
A muon collider—a machine that currently exists only in computer simulation—is a relative newcomer to the world of particle accelerators. At the moment, the reception from the particle physics community to this first-of-its-kind particle smasher is “polite,” says Fermilab physicist Alan Bross.
Politeness will suffice for now: research and development on the machine are gearing up thanks to funding from the US Department of Energy. In August, a DOE review panel supported the launch of the Muon Accelerator Program, or MAP, an international initiative led by Fermilab. Scientists hope the program will receive about $15 million per year over seven years to examine the collider’s feasibility and cost effectiveness.