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Keystone, Martial Trezzini/AP
A portion of the Large Hadron Collider

American Lab May Discover “God Particle” Before Large Hadron Collider Does

February 23, 2009 10:56 AM
by Denis Cummings
Scientists at Fermilab say that the lab’s Tevatron accelerator is close to discovering evidence of the Higgs boson, which explains how particles gain mass.

Fermilab “Closing In” on Higgs Boson

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The Large Hadron Collider, the $10 billion machine launched in September by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), was built to find the Higgs boson, an elusive particle that explains why particles have mass. However, with the LHC’s progress delayed by multiple mechanical failures, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Tevatron accelerator may discover evidence of the Higgs first.

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier this month, scientists from the suburban Chicago-based Fermilab said that there is a “very, very good chance that we will see hints of the Higgs before the LHC will.”

The Tevatron’s odds of finding the Higgs depends on the mass of the particle. Fermilab director Pier Oddone said that the Tevatron has at least a 50 percent chance of discovering the Higgs even if it is a small particle, whereas his colleague Dmitri Denisov said that they have better than a 90 percent chance of discovering the Higgs if it is a large particle. “In that case we would be talking about seeing hints of the Higgs by this summer,” he said.

Some media outlets, particularly those in Britain, have played up the “race” between the two labs in discovering the Higgs, portraying it as a competition between Europe and America. The scientists, however, have downplayed the importance of who discovers the Higgs first.

Even if Fermilab finds evidence of the Higgs first, it might not provide the “level of certainty that would classify its findings as a discovery,” according to The Associated Press. “The Tevatron will never be taken as the last word and we will need the LHC to nail down whether it really is the Higgs,” said Joe Lykken of Fermilab.

The Large Hadron Collider, which was shut down days after it was launched in September, is undergoing scheduled maintenance. It will likely be restarted in late September 2009, two months behind schedule. Actor Tom Hanks will switch on the machine.

Background: The Higgs boson

The Higgs boson, also known as the “God Particle,” was theorized by University of Edinburgh physicist Peter Higgs over 40 years ago to explain how mass is formed. According to Higgs’ theory, particles have no mass until they come into contact with an invisible force field known as the “Higgs field.”

“The field prevails throughout the cosmos: any particles that interact with it are given a mass via the Higgs boson. The more they interact, the heavier they become, whereas particles that never interact are left with no mass at all,” explains CERN. “This idea provided a satisfactory solution and fitted well with established theories and phenomena. The problem is that no one has ever observed the Higgs boson in an experiment to confirm the theory.”

The Higgs boson is the only particle predicted by the Standard Model that has not yet been discovered. The main goal in the building of the LHC was to create a machine that could detect the Higgs boson.

Reference: Fermilab and CERN

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