U.S. Signs On to CERN Collider

WASHINGTON, D.C.--International cooperation in science received a boost today at a White House ceremony solidifying U.S. participation in a $6 billion multinational project. After 4 years of sometimes difficult negotiations, the United States agreed to chip in about 10% of the cost to build the accelerator and detectors for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) now under construction at CERN, Europe's high-energy physics lab near Geneva.

Researchers are anxious to use the collider to accelerate beams of protons to high velocities--nearly the speed of light--before smashing them to produce a billion subatomic particles per second. The collision energy will be seven times that of the world's most powerful current accelerator at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Fermilab in Illinois. The results could provide important data on the nature of matter, including data that U.S. scientists had hoped to garner from the even more powerful Superconducting Super Collider project killed by Congress in 1993.

The $531 million U.S. contribution will be footed by the National Science Foundation and DOE. Researchers at many U.S. companies and three DOE labs will help design and build key LHC components within the United States that then will be shipped to Switzerland. A number of other non-European nations, including Japan, Canada, Israel, and India, also are participating in the project, due for completion in 2005.

Some members of Congress, especially House Science Committee chair, Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), had criticized the draft U.S.-CERN agreement this spring as too favorable for CERN. But negotiators were able to come up with a slightly modified version that won congressional support. The politics of doing so "at times seemed much more complex than particle physics," quipped outgoing CERN Director-General Christopher Llewellyn Smith at the signing ceremony.