January 11, 2011

Budget Issues Force Early Close Of US Particle Lab

The search for the elusive Higgs boson particle appears on track to become a one-horse race this year, after the United States' Tevatron accelerator was denied an extension to remain operating through 2014.

The Tevatron particle smasher will now conclude its operations this year, after which Europe's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will have a clear shot at searching for the particle, a vital part of current theories of physics, BBC News reported.

The Tevatron facility is operated by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Last October, an expert panel recommended extending the Tevatron's operation through 2014, which would have allowed scientists to continue using the accelerator in their hunt for the Higgs.

However, Fermilab employees have now been informed that the panel's recommendation will be dismissed due to budget constraints, and that the Tevatron will be closed later this year.

Fermilab would have required an additional $35 million per year to run the Tevatron through 2014.

The particle smasher will continue to collect data until September of this year, and analysis of those measurements will continue long after that time, which may yet allow physicists to find some hints of the sub-atomic Higgs particle.

The Higgs boson is a critical component of the widely accepted theory of physics known as the Standard Model.

Although it has remained undetected, its existence helps explains why other particles have mass.

The Tevatron and the LHC, which resides underground on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, are the only particle smashers powerful enough to probe the energy ranges at which the Higgs may exist. After the Tevatron is shut down, the LHC will be the only facility able to search for the particle.

Some scientists have said the LHC may be two to three years away from detecting the Higgs, Fermilab physicists reported last year that they were closing in on the particle.

Extending the Tevatron's lifetime beyond 2011 would have been a game-changer, giving the U.S. lab a potential advantage in the race to make the discovery.

CERN, which runs the LHC, had long planned to shut down the machine for several months later this year to conduct maintenance work.  However, officials have recently considered delaying the closure until the end of 2012, giving the LHC more time to search for the particle.


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