Astronomical telescopes are now mega projects and cost $1Bn and although they are pitched to solve the current interest of the day they are general purpose machines and with upgrades and new instruments have a life of perhaps 50years.

It seems that large accelerator projects are built to answer one question, to find one particle. But since the design must be based around the particle having a particular energy and the cost and timescale being so large - you have to be pretty damn sure that you expect the particle to exist and at the predicted energy. It almost seems that if you had a good enough estimate to build the accelerator then you don't really need to!

Is something like the LHC a one trick pony? You turn it on and confirm the Higgs or if not - build a bigger one?

Is the LHC really a more general purpose experiment but the Higgs gets the press attention or is it just that the nature of discover in HEP is different and you need to build a single one shot experiment?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Other than Higgs, it may detect many other things like SUSY, extra dimensions etc. if we are lucky! $\endgroup$
    – user1355
    Apr 20, 2011 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ I hope a particle physicist will chime in with a detailed answer, but it's certainly not true that the LHC is designed just to look for one particle. The Higgs gets all the press, but people will be very surprised and disappointed if that's all it finds. In the past, significant jumps in accelerator energy have revealed lots of new phenomena, often completely unexpected. $\endgroup$
    – Ted Bunn
    Apr 20, 2011 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, what could happen is that the Higgs is not found and then all hell breaks loose. $\endgroup$
    – user346
    Apr 20, 2011 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


The LHC was envisioned as a "discovery" machine, a multipurpose one. The Higgs gets the press but the expectations is that new physics will become accessible with the higher energy available for center of mass collisions.

The Z was discovered in the SPS the proton antiproton previous generation collider. The previous machine in the same tunnel as the LHC, LEP, an electron positron collider was needed to establish with great accuracy the parameters of Z itself and the standard model.

In general leptonic collisions probe elementary interactions with many less assumptions than proton proton or proton antiproton machines. This is because one is throwing balls of three quarks with their gluons at each other and measures the debris, in order to study the interactions. New physics, because of the high energy, will appear, but will be in a complexity unprecedented up to now. Hopefully the next generation will be a lepton machine that will allow to establish the appropriate models unequivocally.

Now on the question of one off detectors: CERN is practically using all the accelerators built up to now as increasing energy stages to feed the end machine, the LHC. Nothing is wasted. In addition a lot of experiments are approved and running in beam lines that are not in the mainstream but may prove valuable or have unexpected theoretical repercussions.

Thus one expects that the LHC will open the window to the new physics that is tantalizing us,strings and unification of all forces at the moment, and the next generation machines will be leptonic ones to allow accurate measurements of parameters and decide between models.


The LHC has four main detectors and several fixed target 'sheds', the search for the Higgs is obviously the headline search but there are lots of bits of particle physics that will be refined and expanded upon by the knowledge learnt by work at the LHC.

This CERN page goes into more detail: http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/LHC/LHCExperiments-en.html .

Once (if!) the Higgs is found, there will be much more work to properly characterise the situation, this isn't just a case of 'bird-spotting' where we are only tryin to tick off another particle!

And as an aside some new astronomical telescopes are short term projects. Herschel will likely have a productive lifespan of around 3 years only...

  • $\begingroup$ that's why I don't like space project. A friend's project had a lifetime of about 10^-6 years as it failed to deploy $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2011 at 16:59

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