Collider deserving of Asia's cash and interest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 August, 2010, 12:00am

The sight of Wall Street chief executives and Western political leaders going hat in hand to places like Beijing and Dubai to raise desperately needed funds has become commonplace. To this long queue we can now add European physicists and mathematicians. The scientists behind the Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, want a bigger, better and more expensive atom smasher - or two. Mindful that most Western governments are drastically cutting public spending to slash deficits, they are looking to China and elsewhere for new funding, they say, that would help unlock the ultimate secrets of the universe.

But, wait a minute. Didn't the same people advertise the collider as the greatest experiment of all time, after costing sponsor countries US$6.8 billion? Are they now saying it isn't really up to the job? Scientists at Cern, the particle physics lab that runs the collider, already got off to a bad start in September 2008 when the atom smasher was switched on with much fanfare. A major accident and a series of glitches set back their efforts and cost an extra US$40 million to repair. The collider has only started working properly since November. The latest plan to raise new funds to the tune of US$13 billion is starting to sound like Wall Street asking for more money after a major bailout. Still, perhaps China and other newly rich emerging economies should look kindly on the scientists. Unlike Wall Street executives, the scientists are on a - relatively - selfless quest to expand the frontiers of human knowledge. Beijing has, after all, set the ambitious goal of turning the nation into a science powerhouse by 2020. Helping to design, build and work at such a facility would educate some of China's finest young minds.

Still, too often, Western institutions want money from developing countries while insisting on control and their own rules. Cern is likely to be no different in that respect from the International Monetary Fund. That is why scientists from developing countries should insist on having a greater say if their governments are to foot the bill. It's time for East and West to work together - as equal partners - in our noble quest to understand the fundamental nature of the universe.