Scientists hunting the Higgs subatomic particle will unveil results next week that could confirm, confound or complicate our understanding of the fundamental nature of the universe.
Seldom has something so small and ephemeral excited such interest. The theoretical particle explains how suns and planets formed after the Big Bang -- but so far it has not been proven to exist. The CERN research centre near Geneva will on July 4 unveil its latest findings in the search for the Higgs after reporting “tantalising glimpses” in December. Scientific bloggers and even some of the thousands of physicists working on the project are speculating that CERN will finally announce proof of the existence of the Higgs. “It’s still premature to say anything so definitive,” says CERN spokesman James Gillies, adding the two teams involved are still analysing data and even CERN insiders won’t know the answer until the results from both are brought together. But with plans for a news conference that will be beamed live around the world and coincide with a major particle physics conference in Melbourne, Australia, anticipation of a significant announcement is hard to avoid. For Jordan Nash, a professor at London’s Imperial College and a member of one of the teams looking for the Higgs, the excitement around the experiment is justified. “We’re trying to understand the fabric of the universe itself,” he told Reuters. The action takes place in the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator, a 27-km (17-mile) looped pipe that sits in a tunnel 100 metres underground on the Swiss/French border. Two beams of energy are fired in opposite directions around it before smashing into each other to create many millions of particle collisions every second in a recreation of the conditions a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.