Particle collider granted stay of execution in Geneva

A spectrometer of CERN's LEP collider. L. Guiraud (CERN)

The European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Geneva has decided to keep its Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider operational for an extra month. Scientists hope to find a particle believed to be responsible for all the mass in the Universe.

This content was published on September 14, 2000

Researchers want to keep looking for definite proof that the "Higgs Boson" exists. They were heartened recently by observations of three collisions of subatomic particles, in which they believe they saw the shadow of the Higgs Boson.

However, the observations are not strong enough proof that the particle exists.

The LEP was due to be shut down at the beginning of October, but the researchers successfully lobbied to keep the device running for another month. It is unlikely, though, that they will find the proof they need to positively identify the elusive particle.

Physicists have been looking for the Higgs Boson ever since a British researcher, Peter Higgs, theorised its existence over 30 years ago.

The CERN scientists want another chance to find the particle rather than leave the field open to the Americans at Fermilab in Illinois. At stake is not only the glory of finding the missing link in the basic theory of physics, but also a probable Nobel prize for whoever discovers it.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will replace the LEP in only five years' time.

The original plan was to build the new collider next to the old one, but because this was not technically feasible, CERN then decided to close down the LEP.

And while Fermilab has no guarantee of finding the Higgs boson, it also has another interest in seeing the LEP shut down since the American government is paying about $500 million towards the LHC.

Also, about one-third of the scientists who will work on the LHC at CERN will come from the United States.

Scientists who are waiting on the new collider would not take kindly to any delays beyond 2005, particularly since it was designed to find the Higgs boson particle.

swissinfo with agencies

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