Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book review: “From the Great Wall to the Great Collider” by Nadis and Yau

From the Great Wall to the Great Collider: China and the Quest to Uncover the Inner Workings of the Universe
By Steve Nadis and Shing-Tung Yau
International Press of Boston (October 23, 2015)

Did you know that particle physicists like the Chinese government’s interest in building the next larger particle collider? If not, then this neat little book about the current plans for the Great Collider, aka “Nimatron,” is just for you.

Nadis and Yau begin their book laying out the need for a larger collider, followed by a brief history of accelerator physics that emphasizes the contribution of Chinese researchers. Then come two chapters about the hunt for the Higgs boson, the LHC’s success, and a brief survey of beyond the standard model physics that focuses on supersymmetry and extra dimensions. The reader then learns about other large-scale physics experiments that China has run or is running, and about the currently discussed options for the next larger particle accelerator. Nadis and Yau don’t waste time discussing details of all accelerators that are presently considered, but get quickly to the point of laying out the benefits of a circular 50 or even 100 TeV collider in China.

And the benefits are manifold. The favored location for the gigantic project is Qinghuangdao, which is “an attractive destination that might appeal to foreign scientists” because, among other things, “its many beaches [are] ranked among the country’s finest,” “the countryside is home to some of China’s leading vineyards” and even the air quality is “quite good” at least “compared to Beijing.” Book me in.

The authors make a good case that both the world and China only have to gain from the giant collider project. China because “one result would likely be an enhancement of national prestige, with the country becoming a leader in the field of high-energy physics and perhaps eventually becoming the world center for such research. Improved international relations may be the most important consequence of all.” And the rest of the world benefits because, besides preventing thousands of particle physicists from boredom, “civil engineering costs are low in the country – much cheaper than those in many Western countries.”

The book is skillfully written with scientific explanations that are detailed, yet not overly technical, and much space is given to researchers in the field. Nadis and Yau quote whoever might help getting their message across: David Gross, Lisa Randall, Frank Wilczek, Don Lincoln, Don Hopper, Joseph Lykken, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Nathan Seiberg, Martinus Veltman, Steven Weinberg, Gordon Kane, John Ellis – everybody gets a say.

My favorite quote is maybe that by Henry Tye, who argues that the project is a good investment because “the worldwide impact of a collider is much bigger than if the money were put into some other area of science,” since “even if China were to spend more than the United States in some field of science and engineering other than high-energy physics, US professors would still do their research in the US.” This quote sums up the authors’ investigation of whether such a major financial commitment might maybe have a larger payoff were it invested into any other research area.

Don’t get me wrong there, if the Chinese want to build a collider, I think that’s totally great and an awesome contribution to knowledge discovery and the good of humanity, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, amen. But there’s a real discussion here to be had whether building the next bigger ring-thing is where the money should flow or if not putting a radio telescope on the moon or a gravitational wave interferometer in space would bring more bang for the Yuan. Unfortunately, you’re not going to find that discussion in Nadis and Yau’s book.

Aside: The print has smear-stripes.Yes, that puts me in a bad mood.

In summary, this book will come in very handy next time you have to convince a Chinese government official to spend a lot of money on bringing protons up to speed.

[Disclaimer: Free review copy.]


  1. Which is more expensive, building a 100 Rev collided in China or building it at CERN?

  2. Jerry,

    I don't know. The tunnel itself is almost certainly much more expensive at CERN. Otoh, at CERN they'd have far less to invest into new infrastructure. In the book, they say, basically, let's do both, wouldn't that be great? I have to agree of course...

  3. "would bring more bang" Paradigmatic bang is exhausted. Theories' price/earnings ratios are Brobdingnagian. Symmetries beget physics. Noetherian symmetries are wrung out and bangless: baryogenesis, the see-saw mechanism, SUSY, dark matter, multiple Higgses, black hole firewall versus information loss; string theory, quantum loop and foam, holography, multiverse....
    Click "Start"

    Proper orthochronous Lorentz symmetries locally leak, for Earth's gravitational potential is neither homogeneous nor isotropic. Internal symmetries are gauge markers. Charge conjugation and time reversal are baryogenesis-compromised. Spatial parity (geometric chirality) must leak. There's your problem - macroscopically test for it. Accelerators are bright lights shining into empty wishes.

  4. In relation to the original functional specifications of the Great Wall the technical specifications are obsolete now.I think the chinese government should hurry up before the functional specifications of the Great Collider are obsolete.

  5. Do they write at all about the collider's maximum energy levels, compared to the LHC?

  6. @Shawn Halayka:

    Sabine mentioned 50 to 100 TeV. Doesn't that answer your question?

  7. I think the international particle-physics community should support such a project, and support building it in China, as soon as China has introduced a minimum of democracy and safety standards for workers. Not before.

    There were several reasons Switzerland was chosen for CERN: it is centrally located in Europe, it had experience with international organizations, the infrastructure was intact since it was neutral in World War II, it was a neutral country, but also because it has a long democratic tradition, and thus a good place to build up physics after the catastrophe of World War II. Building a collider in China would make it more difficult to encourage reform in China. (Hoping that being friendly first will initiate reform later doesn't work, as can be seen in the example of the friendship of many Western countries with Saudi Arabia. If you compare the laws, customs, society and so on of Saudi Arabia and ISIS, they are essentially the same.)

    And while we're at it, maybe Black physicists should avoid Fermilab until the Chicago police get their act together.

  8. @Phillip Helbig Yep, don't know how I missed that. Thank you.

  9. I predict that there might be interesting physics at around 10,000,000 TeV. LOL, no really.

  10. Hi,

    taking a historical perspective, fermions are found in the US, bosons in Europe, then I guess China is the only place to find something really new... at last :).
    A new kind of statistics???



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