GENEVA (Reuters) - A British scientist on Wednesday was put in charge of two major global projects that it is hoped will result in the construction of a new collider - or particle accelerator - that can shed light on the mysterious make-up of the universe.
Lyn Evans, a 66-year-old physicist from Wales who is currently project leader for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), will help decide which of the two projects becomes the template for a single so-called linear collider.
When built, the new collider will be expected to push the boundaries of research by building on findings garnered from the existing LHC, the world's biggest particle accelerator, to advance humankind's knowledge of particle physics and the cosmos in general.
The two projects, involving physicists from around the globe, will in particular look at what the dark matter and dark energy that make up 95 percent of the cosmos really is.
"It is time for the linear collider community to take the next step," said Jonathan Bagger, a member of the committee that steers one of the two projects, called the International Linear Collider (ILC).
Design and planning for the ILC, whose task is to accelerate and collide elementary particles at near-light speeds using cold superconducting structures, is directed by an international team under U.S. scientist Barry Barish.
The other project, the Compact Linear Collider (CLIC), is based at CERN in Geneva. Its design envisages using more traditional warm conducting technology, albeit combined with a novel system for creating the particle beams that will be smashed together.
By contrast, the giant LHC, which cost some $10 billion to set up, collides particles in a circular tunnel, swinging them round many times to bring them close to the speed of light before they are smashed together.
Scientists from Europe and the United States - which has dropped its own plans to build an advanced collider and has closed down its earlier one - will join the giant project along with scientists from Japan, Russia and China.
Many other countries, including India and Brazil, will also participate.
The drive for a new-type collider, which will run in parallel to the 27-km (17-mile) LHC deep under the Franco-Swiss border on the edge of Geneva, will be given new impetus at a major physics gathering in Melbourne, Australia, next month.
At that meeting, the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP), CERN scientists are expected to give an update on how close they are to discovering whether the Higgs Boson, an elusive particle thought to have been key to turning debris from the Big Bang into stars, planets and finally life, really exists.
The boson, and its related energy field, are believed to have given mass to matter after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.
Reporting by Robert Evans; Editing by Andrew Osborn