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China's Expensive Super Particle Collider Jeopardized By Criticism (scmp.com) 141

China's plan to build a particle collider that's four times the size of the Large Hadron Collider in Europe "may be in jeopardy" after criticisms of its cost went viral. Long-time Slashdot reader hackingbear quotes the South China Morning Post: On Sunday, Dr Yang Chen-ning, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1957...released an article on WeChat opposing the construction of the collider. He said the project would become an investment "black hole" with little scientific value or benefit to society, sucking resources away from other research sectors such as life sciences and quantum physics... Yang's article hit nearly all social media platforms and internet news portals, drawing tens of thousands of positive comments over the last couple of days...

Yang's main argument was that China would not succeed where the United States had failed. A similar project had been proposed in the U.S. but was eventually cancelled in 2012 as the construction far exceeded the initial budget... Yang said existing facilities including the Large Hadron Collider contributed little to the increase of human knowledge and was irrelevant to most people's daily lives. But Dr Wang Yifang, lead scientist of the project with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of High Energy Physics, argued research in high energy physics lead to the world wide web, mobile phone touch screens and magnetic resonance imaging in hospitals, among other technological breakthroughs.

The collider is expected to cost $21 billion, and won't be completed until 2050.
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China's Expensive Super Particle Collider Jeopardized By Criticism

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  • Weaponization? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LesFerg ( 452838 ) on Saturday September 10, 2016 @06:46PM (#52863913) Homepage

    Just wait til somebody works out how to fire a coherent beam of Higgs bosons.
    The Higgs MASER will take out anything, once you pump a little extra mass at a concentrated spot.

    This could, of course, be science fiction.

    • The Higgs MASER will take out anything

      Unless Han-Yung So Lee shoots first.

      THAT, my boy, is science fiction.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Pure science is great, I think most geeks would agree, for a large number of reasons including eventual practical applications resulting from pure research.

    Nevertheless, practicality is also important. A scientist can't objectively weigh the value of their own work to society as a while and neither can a politician. But, some kind of accounting clearly needs to take place.

    Cost-benefit is an essential part of maximizing productive results in *any* endeavor in *any* industry, except perhaps, producing worthle

    • Re:Cost benefit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday September 10, 2016 @06:56PM (#52863947) Homepage Journal

      I have a sneaking suspicion that there's simply no way to value any particular pure science project in any kind of precise terms. In aggregate pure science of course is a big part of our civilization's success.

      • Re: Cost benefit (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2016 @07:15PM (#52864003)

        Similarly, I think it's almost impossible to justify any 10 billion dollar project in precise terms. Combine such a large cost investment with one pure science project/facility, and I think it's pretty fair to have some pointed questions and concerns before writing the check.

        One particular question: what other science projects with tangible results may be underfunded or non-existant as a result of this one project?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Wow. The cost/benefit on religion is atrocious. No returns at all. Best scrap it.

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          It's important to not simply look at the total cost figure vs. the likely final results when comparing projects, but also what technologies you'll be developing to achieve said results - because, apart from things like pouring concrete and such, that's where the money goes. For example, there's a lot of people here who hate ITER and see it as a waste of money. But regardless of whether or not tokamak fusion eventually becomes economically viable, the work on superconducting magnets that's been spawned bec

          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            But regardless of whether or not tokamak fusion eventually becomes economically viable, the work on superconducting magnets that's been spawned because of ITER is going to be of immense value.

            Unless, it's not, of course. That's the problem with unfounded assertions.

            And couldn't we have done the work you think is immensely valuable for a lot less than $14+ billion (ITER's cost in current US dollars)? Opportunity cost is the first sacrifice on the altar of Big Science boondoggles.

            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              Unless, it's not, of course.

              Except, of course, I just spelled out the reasons why it is. It's like someone saying "hey, they invented a cheap 300mpg car as a side effect of this project, that's going to be immensely valuable" and you responded "Unless, it's not, of course".

              Higher magnetic field strengths, at higher temperatures, out of materials that should be well cheaper in mass production, is not some little "maybe, maybe not" sort of thing. For anything that uses powerful magnets (and that's a lot of

              • by khallow ( 566160 )

                Except, of course, I just spelled out the reasons why it is. It's like someone saying "hey, they invented a cheap 300mpg car as a side effect of this project, that's going to be immensely valuable" and you responded "Unless, it's not, of course".

                Which is a ludicrous comparison since higher magnetic fields at higher temperatures, using helium-cooled superconductors, just isn't that valuable compared to lowering effective ground transportation costs of humanity by a factor of ten. That's like getting two orders of magnitude return on investment (assuming you spent $14+ billion for it) - which you aren't going to get with ITER.

                Research on magnetic materials is just a single example of a tiny fraction of that cost. How many more examples do you want? Or will you be equally dismissive to all of them? Where do YOU think that $14+ billion is going? Do you think there's just some bonfire where they burn it all? It's mostly spent on researchers, working on the technology behind the various subsystems. Much if not most of which is multi-application.

                I sure will be equally dismissive of the whole lot of them. If there was a serious benefit to ITER, we would have known about

                • by Rei ( 128717 )

                  Which is a ludicrous comparison since higher magnetic fields at higher temperatures, using helium-cooled superconductors

                  Someone doesn't know what a high temperature superconductor is.

                  The whole point is that you don't have to use helium cooling anymore. Do you understand why that's important now? The new tapes operate at liquid nitrogen temperatures. You can get very high field strengths with a very compact magnet with very little cooling cost, with capital costs also expected to be low in mass production

                  • by khallow ( 566160 )
                    So if ITER doesn't have to use helium-cooled superconductors any more and those arent' the future of fusion reactor design, then why do they [finances.gouv.fr]?

                    Yes, and what percent of mainstream fusion researchers do you see lining up to back cutting ITER funding to support some massive Polywell project?

                    There's this conflict of interest between most of the researchers (whose work is based on the tokamak reactor design) and the most promising research.

                    You can't just take Bussard's scaling claims at face value. Real-world phenomenon aren't limited to just linear and quadratic scaling curves. And the fact that the concept is 20 years old and has little peer-reviewed results doesn't exactly give it much credence vs. cutting something that's pretty well understood and which there's relatively little doubt about its ability to scale (ability to prove economic, that's a more up-in-the-air question).

                    We won't need to take Bussard's claims at face value when we can build a scaled-up Polywell for a small fraction of the cost of the ITER project and find out for ourselves.

                    • by Rei ( 128717 )

                      So if ITER doesn't have to use helium-cooled superconductors any more and those arent' the future of fusion reactor design, then why do they [finances.gouv.fr]?

                      Why are you pointing out something I pointed out in my first post on the subject?

                      If ITER went and redesigned their magnets now after all of the other engineering work has been done the budget would go up and people like you would be raising hell about that. But you better bet that DEMO will use more advanced magnets.

                    • by khallow ( 566160 )

                      Why are you pointing out something I pointed out in my first post on the subject?

                      Because high temperature superconductors have been around longer than that. It's a fairly obvious bad design decision even for the 90s.

                      If ITER went and redesigned their magnets now after all of the other engineering work has been done the budget would go up and people like you would be raising hell about that.

                      Their budget did go up and their schedule did slide by a number of years anyway, let us note.

                      But you better bet that DEMO will use more advanced magnets.

                      I wonder how much overbudget DEMO will be. But I'm sure, we'll have a better idea what a commercial power plant won't be by the time we've run DEMO for a while.

                    • by Rei ( 128717 )

                      Because high temperature superconductors have been around longer than that. It's a fairly obvious bad design decision even for the 90s.

                      High temperature superconducting wires and tapes suitable for large superconducting magnets have most definitely not been around since the 90s. They went from 90 A-m to 300k A-m between 2002 and 2009, overwhelmingly due to research by and demand from high-energy plasma physics research projects, particularly tokamaks. But hey, I think it's wonderful how you feel qualified

                    • by khallow ( 566160 )
                      Again, I disagree.

                      But hey, I think it's wonderful how you feel qualified to lecture physicists on how dumb they are in their magnet designs!

                      It's their designs. Being completely irrelevant to some future commercial operation is not my fault.

                    • by khallow ( 566160 )

                      They went from 90 A-m to 300k A-m between 2002 and 2009, overwhelmingly due to research by and demand from high-energy plasma physics research projects, particularly tokamaks.

                      I should add here, this technological innovation was quite foreseeable. And there shouldn't have been such a long lead time to the start of ITER. It's remarkable how low our standards for design of multi-billion dollar projects are these days!

                    • by Rei ( 128717 )

                      It absolutely was not "quite forseeable", any more than quantum computers and fusion power have been "quite foreseeable"; it was fraught with major technical challenges that had to be overcome, and there was no guarantee that they would be. High temperature superconductors are brittle and cannot be used as wires or tapes in any simple manner. More importantly, their grain boundaries act like "weak links" in their behavior; the more frequent the grain boundaries (aka, the smaller you make the grains, aka,

                    • by khallow ( 566160 )

                      It absolutely was not "quite forseeable", any more than quantum computers and fusion power have been "quite foreseeable"; it was fraught with major technical challenges that had to be overcome, and there was no guarantee that they would be.

                      Sorry, I don't buy it. ITER threw money at a superconducting technology they knew wouldn't work for commercial purposes rather than one that merely needed some development to work.

                      It's taken a lot of work to turn flexible, durable, long HTS wires suitable for magnets into a reality. And that doesn't come cheap.

                      I bet $!4 billion would have gone a long way here and still have enough left over to put together a few fusion reactors. Opportunity cost is invisible.

          • Why not spend the money on developing superconducting magnets instead of indirectly?
            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              Why not aim that development toward something that's also a major goal (fusion power), and kill two birds with one stone?

          • So in this case they should instead build a 20 storey tall pinball machine. It would be fun to play and just think of all the advancements that could be made figuring out how to propel a huge steel ball around.
      • I have a sneaking suspicion that there's simply no way to value any particular pure science project in any kind of precise terms.

        That is a valid point. But, on the other hand, how many particle supercolliders does the world need? I think of myself as pro-science, but I'm also aware that funding is not unlimited. How much other basic, novel research projects could that $50 billion result in?

        Countries should really find a way to maximize collaboration on huge-ticket items. It's not only a more efficient use of funds, but it also generates real world social and political benefits.

        • This is especially true for projects such as this. Fifty billion dollars. This is a very real zero-sum game going on. At this scale, things must be weighed against what other benefits can be accomplished with those funds.

      • I think you're right, but - and this thinking applies to ALL nations, not just PRC - $21 Billion spent on pure scientific research is $21 Billion not spent on arms or armaments.

        Hey, if it were me, I would like to see more money diverted to alleviating the abject poverty and suffering of so many across the world, in ensuring that everyone has enough to eat, a roof over their heads.

        But I also respect that sometimes we also need positive, aspirational developments to inspire our schoolchildren and stretc
      • A particular project, perhaps not. But in general, it's easy to see that "new" fields will produce more output than "old" fields. It's simply a matter of how deeply the field has been mined.

        For instance, thermal expansion of metal wad one a very serious field of study, and about a century ago was the topic of a Nobel prize. However, today there is basically nothing left in that field to dio, and if you proposed spending 10 million to study it you'd be laughed at.

        The standard model has remained largely uncha

    • A scientist can't objectively weigh the value of their own work to society as a while and neither can a politician.

      This is why giving any one scientist's voice - even one with a Nobel prize - too much weight is a very bad idea. We all have biases. This is why funding decisions nee to be made by committees where biases average out and the decisions are hopefully made on scientific merit (although no human process is perfect).

      Cost-benefit is an essential part of maximizing productive results in *any* endeavor in *any* industry, except perhaps, producing worthless luxury items.

      The problem is that you can't really do this with fundamental research because we have no idea what we will discover. Even after discovery it often takes 50+ years before the applications come out.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Saturday September 10, 2016 @07:01PM (#52863971)

    But Dr Wang Yifang, lead scientist of the project with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of High Energy Physics, argued research in high energy physics lead to the world wide web, mobile phone touch screens and magnetic resonance imaging in hospitals, among other technological breakthroughs.

    And...those couldn't have been invented in a different type of research facility? The web surely could have arisen from any large-scale research effort, seeing as it's so universal. Likewise the invention of touch screens doesn't seem to have research in high energy physics as a prerequisite, and NMR existed before CERN.

    • by r1348 ( 2567295 )

      Could they? My opinion is as good as yours.
      Did they? No.

    • The initial motivation to create the web was as a way for scientists to access each others' research papers without having to go through the journals. When the cold fusion hype broke in 1989, the journals were too slow and researchers were using fax machines to send each other draft copies of their papers.
      • Existing Internet-based information sharing services like Archie, Verionica, and WAIS were based on text. Research papers frequently have charts and graphs. So a way for sites to send both images and
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Such large scale ignorance should be addressed, so let's start here:
      "...and NMR existed before CERN."
      Medical NMR is the direct result of the Superconductor Magnet research done at Berkeley for the ESCAR, (Experimental Superconducting Accelerator Ring), Project back in the mid-Seventies. Until then, no large Superconducting Magnet designs for Industrial production had been attempted. Note that ESCAR was itself a failure; that it was allowed to be, shows just how successful it was in the long term, even thoug

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Saturday September 10, 2016 @07:11PM (#52863997)
    No way that article gets published without the imprimatur of the communist government, which must mean the government wants to back out of the plan. Having Dr Yang Chen-ning kill the project let's the government save face.
  • world wide web, mobile phone touch screens and magnetic resonance imaging in hospitals, among other technological breakthroughs.

    NMR not so much, magnetic resonance was an old result that Damadian had the vision to move forward when people were saying it was impossible
    Touch Screens ? BS Cern was hardly the only place working on the tech
    WWW ? Few tens of million Frenchmen would argue minitel was well on its way. Teletext was available here. Personally I could live without the craptastic kluge of CSS/Javascript/Html.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2016 @09:16PM (#52864309)

    Building entire cities, with all utilities and buildings for every service needed, that no one will ever use: sure, why not!
    Build something that's actually worth something, that would put them in a good position to advance science: nah, too expensive...

    I need the Jackie Chan meme to express my frustration...

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      Build something that's actually worth something, that would put them in a good position to advance science: nah, too expensive...

      Read the criticism.

      He said the project would become an investment "black hole" with little scientific value or benefit to society, sucking resources away from other research sectors such as life sciences and quantum physics...

      If true, it doesn't advance science but instead hinders it. It's remarkable how people who supposedly are clued about science are clueless about the economics of science.

  • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Saturday September 10, 2016 @11:43PM (#52864667)

    The world of next generation high energy physics machines is highly political. There are plans for LHC luminosity and energy upgrades. The long delayed ILC (international linear collider) project, proposed for Japan. Competing designs for a lower energy circular lepton collider (maybe China) to be upgraded to a very high energy hadron collider. Laser and beam driven plasma accelerators - neither anywhere near practical yet. CLIC, Muon collider, VLHC, etc.

    There really are two issues: Is it worth ~10B$ to build the next generation high energy physics machine, and if it is, which of the many machines should be built. With machine development likely to take a generation, people on any project know that success of another will doom their machine.

    Neither question is easy to answer. There is no clear way to measure the value of fundamental physics measurements. The likely technological value is zero, though spin-offs can be valuable.

    To me personally, learning about the most basic structure of the universe from high energy physics, or astrophysics is valuable, even if it has no imaginable application. I view learning about the universe as one of the goals of civilization, not a means.

  • US$21B over the next 35 years? Pocket change even if it ends up costing 10X as much. Better than building useless islands in the South China Sea.

  • For any doubters among you, this is why China really needs the untiring services of its patriotic censors.

    With one message an unauthorised non-party member held up the entirety of the Chinese scientific leadership to ridicule! One can only suspect that his motives are thoroughly un-patriottic, aimed at fomenting dissent, perhaps even sedition, unrest, and a dispute of the Mandate of Heaven currently held by the Communist Party.

    We must support China's censors and help them to monitor private communicatio

  • > Yang said existing facilities including the Large Hadron Collider contributed little to the increase of human knowledge and was irrelevant to most people's daily lives

    So what? Even if it were true, I'd like to quote Richard Feynman: "Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.".

  • I think the post is confusing the shutdown of the Tevatron at Fermilab with the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider. The Super Collider was cancelled in late 1993, which would have been larger than the Large Hadron Collider, comparable to the proposed collider in China. The Tevatron at Fermilab had been running from the 1980's until late 2011 when the project was ended once the LHC ramped up to higher energies.

  • Clarke's first law

    When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

  • No doubt the Professor has tenure, he (and his successors) will never lose their jobs even if the project is a dismal failure.

    Given the 34 year life span of construction. I'd look to see what relatives (and PLA Generals) have ties to the construction industry.

    I say go for it.

    Now if the Professor was based in North Korea, there is a different penalty for failure.

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