ON JULY 4th 2012 news of the discovery of the Higgs boson by researchers at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory, electrified science and the wider public. This particle, generated inside the lab’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), was the last missing piece of the Standard Model, one of the most successful theories physicists have devised.

Since its inception in the 1970s, the Standard Model has correctly predicted the existence of a range of particles—including the Higgs itself. Yet it cannot explain everything. It cannot say why the Higgs has the mass it does. Nor does it have anything to say about dark matter, the mysterious stuff thought to make up almost 85% of the mass of the universe (see article).

Physicists have wrestled with these and other problems for years. Many of their ideas for explaining them, such as Grand Unified Theories and supersymmetry, are now themselves several decades old. As colliders and detectors have failed to turn up the particles these theories conjecture, the models have been tweaked and ever-larger colliders and detectors have been put to work testing them. The failure thus far to find the predicted particles raises the question of whether to build a larger collider even than the LHC. To probe very new territory would require a ring 100km in circumference, about four times that of the LHC. The protons colliding together at such a facility would have a combined energy more than seven times higher. Scientists at CERN and in China have developed independent proposals for a particle accelerator of this size, with most of the money coming from local sources and the rest from international funds. Should a new collider be built at all? And if so, where?

The answer to the first question is “yes”. The failure to find any of the phenomena predicted by Grand Unified Theories, supersymmetry and the like is not a reason to stop trying, through experiments both small and grand. An even larger and more sensitive collider would have a better chance of finding evidence to support these theories (or, indeed, of turning up something entirely unexpected). And should it not do so, that too would be valuable information. Scientists often make the case for the value of negative results. By making it so much harder to believe in longstanding theories, this would be the most important null result in the history of physics.

The importance of negative results is a riposte to the objection that the money involved, of $20bn or more, would be better spent in other areas of science—hunting exoplanets, say—where the chance of discoveries is higher. Nor is it clear that money saved in one area would find its way to others. America’s decision to cancel, in 1993, the construction of the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas did not noticeably improve the funding of other fields.

We’re going to need a bigger collider

As for the question of where a new facility should be, China’s case is stronger. For China itself, a collider would spawn high-tech manufacturing hubs to make the advanced coolants, magnets and computing infrastructure required. And just as an influx of European scientists into America in the mid-20th century invigorated progress, so China’s often insular scientific world would be cracked open by an infusion of foreign physicists. Because of its scale and technological demands, the next super-collider to be built may well be the last one. This time the jolt of excitement should come from the East.