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LEP era at CERN ends on a high note

Particle accelerators smash atoms to try to recreate the conditions of the early universe

(Keystone)

With a high sense of occasion, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, has said goodbye to its Large Electron Positron Collider, which is to shut down November 2.

The event was clearly intended as a celebration rather than a wake.

At a colourful ceremony marked by Dixieland music and ballet, speakers from some of the 20 member states of CERN reviewed the achievements of the LEP, which started operating 11 years ago.

They also paid tribute to CERN as a platform for effective collaboration in science, and as a springboard for developments such as the World Wide Web.

The Italian minister of the University for Scientific and Technological Research, Ortensio Zecchino, said the LEP had enabled man's knowledge of nature to make unforeseeable strides.

The British minister of science, Lord Sainsbury, referred to the recent excitement generated by the discovery by CERN researchers, of what they hoped was evidence of the presence of a particle believed to be the last missing link needed to prove the standard theory of elementary particle physics.

This particle is the so-called Higgs boson. "Whether or not the latest signal from LEP turns out to be the first hint of the Higgs boson, the fact that we have been in a position to get the signal in the first place, is a remarkable achievement," said Sainsbury.

The planned shutdown of the LEP had been set for the end of September. However, the huge 27-kilometre particle accelerator was granted a one-month stay of execution after researchers made their discovery.

CERN scientists wanted to follow up their discovery rather than leave the field open to US researchers while CERN installs a new accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The construction of the LHC will be completed only five years from now, while an upgraded accelerator in the US is scheduled to start operating next year.

by Paul Sufrin


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