Physicists Hunt the Elusive Higgs Boson

Washington is giving about a half billion dollars toward the European project. About one-third of the 7,000 scientists who will work on the LHC will be from the United States.

Worthy of the Nobel Prize

Originally CERN planned to put the LHC on top of the 11-year-old LEP inside its circular, 17-mile tunnel under the Swiss-French border area.

But the engineering problems were too difficult and the decision was made to remove the LEP and install the $1.8 billion LHC in its place.

CERN would encounter massive extra costs in delaying construction of the LHC and risk angering physicists who will have to defer their experiments they have long dreamed of starting in 2005.

Fermilab, which has been undergoing its own upgrade for four years, is due to start its Higgs experiments next spring on the refurbished Tevatron, which found another particle — the top quark — in 1996.

CERN has designed the LHC precisely to discover the Higgs particle, but Detraz said it will have plenty to do even if Fermilab wins the discovery race.

“When Christopher Columbus saw the coast, it was discovering America, but it was not studying America.”

The long-sought particle was named for British physicist Peter Higgs, who postulated its existence more than 30 years ago at the University of Edinburgh to explain how atoms — and everything else in the universe — have weight.

Without the particle, the basic physics theory — the “standard model” — was lacking a crucial element, because it fails to explain how other elements have mass.

The Higgs theory is that the usually invisible bosons create a field through which subatomic particles — such as quarks and electrons — pass.

The particles that find passing through the field to be slow going — like going through molasses — pick up more inertia, and mass. The ones that pass through easily remain lighter.

Detraz agreed that the discovery will likely win the Nobel Prize for physics, but he said the prize should really go to the person who can figure out who will be responsible for discovering the Higgs because so many scientists have contributed.

“Hundreds of people have dedicated their lives for years to the search,” he said.

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