After Higgs Boson, scientists prepare for next quantum leap

Higgs bosons
Seven months after its scientists made a landmark discovery that may explain the mysteries of mass, Europe's top physics lab will take a break from smashing invisible particles to recharge for the next leap into the unknown.

From tomorrow, the cutting-edge facilities at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) will begin winding down, then go offline on Saturday for an 18-month upgrade.

A vast underground lab straddling the border between France and Switzerland, CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was the scene of an extraordinary discovery announced in July 2012.

Its scientists said they were 99.9 percent certain they had found the elusive Higgs Boson, an invisible particle without which, theorists say, humans and all the other joined-up atoms in the Universe would not exist.

The upgrade will boost the LHC's energy capacity, essential for CERN to confirm definitively that its boson is the Higgs, and allow it to probe new dimensions such as supersymmetry and dark matter.

"The aim is to open the discovery domain," said Frederick Bordry, head of CERN's technology department. "We have what we think is the Higgs, and now we have all the theories about supersymmetry and so on. We need to increase the energy to look at more physics. It's about going into terra incognita (unknown territory)," he told AFP.

Theorised back in 1964, the boson also known as the God Particle carries the name of a British physicist, Peter Higgs. He calculated that a field of bosons could explain a nagging anomaly: Why do some particles have mass while others, such as light, have none?

That question was a gaping hole in the Standard Model of particle physics, a conceptual framework for understanding the nuts-and-bolts of the cosmos.

"Initially we thought we'd have the long shutdown in 2012, but in 2011, with some good results and with the perspective of discovering the boson, we pushed the long shutdown back by a year. But we said that in 2013 we must do it," said Bordry.

Unlike the LEP, which was used to accelerate electrons or positrons, the LHC crashes together protons, which are part of the hadron family.

"It's about recreating the first microsecond of the universe, the Big Bang. We are reproducing in a lab the conditions we had at the start of the Big Bang," Bordry said.

Five billion collisions yielded results deemed worthy of further research and data from only 400 threw up data that paved the road to the Higgs Boson.

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