July 23, 2010

Fermilab Seeking More Time For Higgs Boson Hunt

The Tevatron accelerator "atom smasher" may get three extra years of usage in order to continue its hunt for the elusive God particle.

Physicists at the Tevatron -- based in Batavia, Illinois and operated by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) -- are hoping to keep the accelerator operational until 2014, as they think the Higgs boson is within their grasp.

The Higgs boson is a sub-atomic particle considered crucial to the current theory of particle physics.

The Tevatron is the main US rival of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located on the French-Swiss border. Both accelerators are aiming to become the first to find the Higgs boson.

Extending the life of the US accelerator is a potential change for the particle hunting game. Some experts say the LHC may not be in a position to detect the Higgs for 2 to 3 years.

The LHC will continue its current run until 2011, after which it will be shut down for up to a year for maintenance work. An extension to 2014 for the Tevatron could be an advantage in the race to find Higgs.

The LHC may be capable of higher energies than the Tevatron, but the Tevatron is currently capable of greater luminosities. This describes the intensity of the particle beams and determines the number of collisions that are possible with them.

"We have made big progress at the Tevatron"¦ we have collected lots of data over the last couple of years and this will help us to exclude a significant range of possible Higgs masses," Stefan Soldner-Rembold, spokesman for the DZero experiment at the Tevatron, told BBC News.

"This will make the region where the Higgs boson can hide smaller and smaller," he added.

Experts and physicists expect the Tevatron to be delivering more data per experiment by the end of 2011. Improved analysis techniques could further boost the chances of detecting the Higgs signal.

A decision on the extension could come by the end of the year. As of yet, financing and staffing has not been worked out.

The components in the machine may also be a limiting factor - they are exposed to high radiation levels during operation, which can hinder their performance over time.


Image Caption: Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Main Ring and Main Injector as seen from the air. The circular ponds dissipate waste heat from the equipment. Credit: Fermilab, Reidar Hahn


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