Fifty years of colliders

Vladimir Shiltsev

Vladimir Shiltsev, director of the Accelerator Physics Center, wrote this column.

This spring accelerator physicists celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first demonstration of colliding beams in 1964. The idea of exploring collisions in the center-of-mass system to fully exploit the energy of accelerated particles came from Norwegian engineer and inventor Rolf Wideröe, who had applied for a patent on the collider concept in 1943 (and received the patent in 1953).

Others took his idea seriously, and in the late 1950s, three teams started working on colliding beams. One was a Princeton-Stanford group that included William C. Barber, Bernard Gittelman, Gerry O’Neill and Burton Richter, who in 1959, following a suggestion from Gerry O’Neill in 1956, proposed to build a couple of tangent rings to study electron-electron scattering. Andrei Budker initiated a somewhat similar project in the Soviet Union, where electron-electron collider VEP-1 was under construction in 1958. An Italian group at Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati led by Bruno Touschek began a design of the first electron-positron collider.

In the early 1960s, almost at the same time, commissioning and operations of these first colliders began in Italy, the Soviet Union and the United States. The Italian group built the electron-positron storage ring ADA (Anello di Accumulazione). They worked hard through the spring and summer of 1964 to get enough statistical evidence for the first electron-positron collisions to be able to separate them from the background. The first electron-electron collisions in Novosibirsk, Russia, were detected on May 19, 1964, and in 1965 VEP-1 started providing the first experimental results. The Princeton-Stanford electron-electron collider announced its first electron-electron collisions in March 1965, and its first interesting results were published in 1966.

The race to first collisions between the competing groups set the tone for the development of Energy Frontier accelerators for the next 50 years. Fermilab was a leader in that area for almost 25 years with our Tevatron collider, which closed in September 2011.

We now have entered the race for operating the world’s premier high-power accelerators for neutrino research and believe that with our planned PIP-II linac, the United States can lead Intensity Frontier research for decades to come.