While they analyse existing data from LEP and prepare for its higher energies, physicists in the UK and elsewhere are also already working on the machine to go beyond LEP. This is the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC.
The LHC will continue the tradition at CERN of using existing accelerators as stepping stones to higher energies. In this case, the new machine will even be in a tunnel that already exists! The LHC is to be built in the LEP tunnel, and will accelerate two beams of protons travelling in opposite directions, before colliding them head-on.
The LHC will reach proton energies ten times greater than the highest currently available at Fermilab in the US. To reach these high energies requires a magnetic field of 9 tesla, the strongest ever used in a particle accelerator. Experts at CERN have already designed and tested innovative superconducting magnets. These will guide the two proton beams in opposite directions in separate magnetic channels within the same mechanical structure, which will be cooled to 1.9 degrees above absolute zero.
Particle physicists hope that this next step in energy will put them in reach of the elusive Higgs boson - or whatever mechanism Nature uses to generate mass. There may be other new effects, expected and unexpected, which will take us beyond the current Standard Model to a more complete picture of particles and forces. It is an exciting time as the teams begin to build the detectors for the next century, which will require many new and innovative techniques to deal both with the high energies and the many particles that will be produced in the collisions at the LHC. Whatever the outcome, the LHC will provide a unique glimpse of the conditions of the early Universe. It is guaranteed to take us substantially further on our journey to discover the origins and nature of matter.