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Scientists fail to block closure of particle accelerator

Physicists have lost their battle to save the LEP particle accelerator Keystone

Scientists at the European Particle Physics Laboratory (CERN) in Geneva have failed in their last-ditch attempt to save a particle accelerator which has made new findings in recent weeks from being closed down.

A key advisory committee to CERN’s top decision-making body on Friday ratified the management’s November 8 decision to close the accelerator down for good.

The management has ordered the dismantling of the Large Electron-Proton Collider (LEP) to begin early next week.

The researchers had been hoping to convince their superiors to postpone a decision to scrap the 27 kilometre-long machine by at least a year, following results that they felt could lead to a breakthrough.

The LEP is to be dismantled in favour of a more powerful Large Hadron Collider, worth nearly $2 billion, which will not be ready until 2005 at the earliest.

Patrick Janot, who is responsible for scientific co-ordination on the project, told swissinfo he was devastated by the news.

“What do we do our job for,” he said, “if this is the outcome of years of work.”

The Staff Association at Cern had called for a public debate on how to proceed, and had collected around 1,400 signatures over the Internet for a petition presented to the management on Friday.

Janot said several Nobel Prize winners were among those who had expressed their support for extending the accelerator’s life span.

“We are using people’s money to do this research, yet when we have the opportunity to make important discoveries, other factors override our work,” Janot said.

Physicists who have worked on the LEP argue that the results achieved over the past few months could lead to the discovery of an elusive sub-atomic particle known as the Higgs Boson, which is thought to be at the origins of the Universe.

Several recordings of what appear to be shadows of the particle have been made, but the results would have to be repeated many more times before the scientists at CERN can claim to have discovered the Higgs Boson.

The laboratory’s director general, Luciano Maiani, agreed to postpone the LEP’s closure by a month in September, but decided two weeks ago that the new data collected was not sufficiently conclusive to warrant a further delay.

The European scientists fear that their rivals in the United States will beat them to the discovery of the Higgs Boson if they have to wait for the new accelerator before resuming their experiments.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR