CERN chases the Higgs
Sep 14, 2000
The CERN particle physics laboratory has decided to keep the Large Electron Positron (LEP) collider running for another month, following hints that the elusive Higgs boson - the 'holy grail' of particle physics - may have been uncovered. Last week, particle physicists heard that results from the four LEP experiments were consistent with the production of a Higgs boson with a mass of 114.9 GeV c-2. However, the evidence is not strong enough to claim a discovery. With LEP due to close at the end of September to allow construction of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to begin, it seemed as if the last missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics would remain out of reach. Now Luciano Maiani, CERN's director general, has decided to prolong LEP operations until 2 November, giving the experiments the opportunity to double the amount of data that has been collected so far at high energies. The decision will not affect the construction schedule of the LHC.
"It was a difficult decision," admitted Roger Cashmore, CERN's director of research to Physics Web. "We wanted to give the experiments the opportunity to better test the effect without compromising the LHC schedule." If the experiments continue to measure the same effects, the extra data will reduce the likelihood that the observation is a statistical fluctuation from 6 in 1000 to 1 in 10 000.
Over the next five weeks the experiments will focus solely on collecting as much data as possible at a centre-of-mass-energy of 206.6 GeV. The gamble will cost CERN about an extra SwF 7 million (about £2.7 m), says Cashmore. However, the decision sets the scene for a nail-biting end to the accelerator's illustrious career.