Scientists at the European Particle Physics Laboratory (CERN) in Geneva are refusing to accept a decision to close down a particle accelerator, saying recent results could lead to a breakthrough.
The scientists are trying to have the November 8 decision reversed, before workers start dismantling the Large Electron-Proton Collider (LEP) in December. The 27 kilometre-long machine is to be replaced by a more powerful accelerator.
In a statement, the Staff Association at Cern has called for a public debate on how to proceed, and has been collecting signatures over the Internet for a petition presented to the management on Friday.
Patrick Janot, who is responsible for scientific co-ordination on the project, told swissinfo 1,400 people had signed the document, and that several Nobel prize winners had expressed their support.
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.
Physicists want to challenge the decision before it is set in stone by CERN's top decision-making body, which is due to meet next month.
The LEP is to be dismantled in favour of a new $1.8 billion Large Hadron Collider, which will not be ready until 2005 at the earliest.
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.