USA Today has an article on Japan's interest as the site for the $10 billion future International Linear Collider. This accelerator will utilize electron/positron collisions (like CERN's former LEP collider) at energies of 500 GeV and will be 30 km long. The ILC site claims precision capabilities over and above those of the 14 TeV LHC for Higgs and other "new physics" areas.

What are the specific advantages of the ILC over the LHC and what new particle physics insites are more likely to be discovered?

  • $\begingroup$ BTW, I understand that electron/positron collisions are cleaner than proton/antiproton. There have to be more reasons why the ILC is more advantageous than the LHC. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ "what new particle physics insites are more likely to be discovered" If we knew that then it wouldn't be new. More interesting questions are things like "what candidate beyond the standard model theories could it distinguish between" or "how much of the string theory phase space could it constrain". Of course, any surprises will be...well, surprising. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ dmckee: I agree. Those are better questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ "There have to be more reasons why the ILC is more advantageous than the LHC." - Well, you're essentially wrong, Michael. There don't have to be any other reasons. jdm's answer is detailed and exhaustive but it confirms the basic thesis you summarized by the word "cleaner". $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 7:58

1 Answer 1


One often says a hadron collider like the LHC is used for discovering, while an electron collider is rather used for precision measurements. There are a couple of benefits of a high-energy electron collider:

  • All electrons have roughly the same energy. One can vary the center of mass energy $\sqrt{s}$ and map out resonances (think $ee\rightarrow Z$ or $J/\psi$). Compare this to the LHC, which is actually in a sense a gluon-gluon collider. The gluons in the protons have wildly varying energies (the probability of a certain energy is given by the parton distribution functions), so you never know with which energy your particles are colliding. You are probing all energies up to 7 TeV at the same time, in a way. Even worse, most of the time your initial state particles have different momenta in beam direction, so your whole system is boosed along the beam. These effects smear out and shift your distributions, e.g. if you want to measure the invariant mass of something. This is the reason that we use transverse variables at hadron colliders - there is no initial boost in transverse direction (perpendicular to the beam line).

  • Related to the above, in some searches for new particles you can see nice mass edges at a lepton collider. They occur when you have a chain decay, say $\tilde\chi^0_2 \rightarrow \tilde\chi^0_1 + Z \rightarrow \tilde\chi^0_1 + \ell^+ \ell^-$. The invariant mass distribution of the lepton pairs rises up to the point $\Delta m = m(\tilde\chi^0_2) - m(\tilde\chi^0_1)$ where all of the energy from the chain decay is carried by the two leptons and none by the neutralino, and then it drops off suddenly. You can look for mass edges at the LHC too, but they will be more smeared out.

  • As you said, the collisions are 'cleaner'. There are no jets from proton remnants for example. A lot of backgrounds just don't exist there, and if you are running near the energy of an interesting resonance, you will get a lot of signal events.

However, at the energies of the ILC there will still be a lot of jets produced. Also the ILC will have a pretty high luminosity, so they will also have to deal with multiple simultaneous events. And then, there are entirely new problems. After the electron beam is focused in the collision point, it diverges quickly behind it because the electrons repel each other. The part of the detector nearest to the beam line will be 'blinded' from all the electrons ('beamstrahlung'). If you look at data vs. background plots from ILC simulations, you see that the beam-induced background spikes at high $\eta$, at small angles to the beam. It looks like this can be controlled, but it is still challenging for detector designers and analyzers.

It's very probably the LHC experiments will conclusively observe the Higgs Boson soon. But then we still don't know which Higgs Boson it is - the standard model one, or another one with different properties? In the MSSM (a supersymmetric theory), there are five Higgs bosons, two of which are charged. And what's the exact mass (masses)? We will eventually be able to answer these questions at the LHC with a lot of data, but we can do it more precisely with a special tool like the ILC. The same not only applies for the Higgs, but also for other new physics, like SUSY, extra dimensions, or whatever other thing there is to be discovered.

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    $\begingroup$ I would add one more point, the advantage of closure, that missing energy can be a clean sign of a missing particle in a four pi detector, so important for dark matter candidates. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 5:32
  • $\begingroup$ Do you guys have any citations for this stuff? $\endgroup$
    – Tsangares
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ Your answer is quite nice, but it doesn't really answer the question. It assumes that linear collider are e+e- while accelerators are always hadrons. This is not fundamentally the case. The real difference between linear and circular is synchrotron radiation. Synchrotron radiation becomes prohibitive at high energies. Psync~E^4. Also light particles (electrons) are affected even more. Psync~1/m^4. It is technologically extremely difficult to accelerate electrons to TeV energies without a linear accelerator. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 5:34

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