Scientists at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory in Geneva, have made the first ever measurements of a particle whose existence was first mooted in the 1960s, just days before the machine used to record the data is due to be closed down.This content was published on September 12, 2000 - 17:01
Five measurements of particles which could be the Higgs-Boson have been made in the last two months in Geneva, but they do not go far enough to amount to scientific evidence of its existence.
Patrick Janot, who is responsible for scientific co-ordination on the project, said the probability that the measurements represent some form of interference is several parts in 1,000. To claim the discovery of the particle, the probability would have to be reduced to several parts in 10 million.
The scientists have therefore asked Cern's management to postpone the closure of the particle accelerator, LEP, by two months. This could allow them to make enough new measurements to push the probability down to several parts in 100,000 and would enable them to start publishing papers on the data. A decision is due on Thursday.
"We are very excited, we don't want to stop now," Janot told swissinfo.
The stakes are high. Once the LEP is switched off, it will be at least five years until the new collider is built, and another four years before they have collected enough data to be in a position to discover the particle. That would give Cern's rivals at the Fermi Laboratory in Chicago plenty of time to try to get there first.
Their upgraded accelerator is due to start operating next year.
The Higgs-Boson is the last missing link needed to prove the standard theory of elementary particle physics. Its existence would explain why the mass of elementary particles varies, and could lead to a better understanding of certain phenomena of gravity.
The discoverers of the Higgs-Boson are likely to be strong contenders for a Nobel prize.
by Malcolm Shearmur
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