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Fermilab gives final report on hunt for Higgs boson

Fermilab scientist Dan Green along with scienctist Dmitri Denisov (back left) others answer reporters' questions during press conference Fermilab Bataviwhere

Fermilab scientist Dan Green along with scienctist Dmitri Denisov (back left) and others answer reporters' questions during a press conference at Fermilab in Batavia where Tevatron scientists announced that data they have analyzed indicates the existence of the Higgs boson on Monday, July 2, 2012. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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What is the
Higgs boson?

According to the standard model of physics, the Higgs boson is a supposed very heavy elementary particle that gives other particles their mass.

Without it, physics theorists believe everything in the universe would behave like light, floating freely and not combining with other particles to make matter. The universe as we know it would not exist.

It is named for physicist Peter Higgs, who first predicted its existence.

For two decades, physicists at Fermilab and CERN have been re-creating the conditions of the early universe and colliding protons and anti-protons in hopes of making a Higgs boson that can be observed before it quickly decays.

— Jenette Sturges

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Updated: August 4, 2012 6:08AM

BATAVIA — The call is a cliffhanger.

After two decades of searching, physicists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia presented their latest and final research Monday on the hunt for the Higgs boson to the wider science community.

They haven’t found the particle, but months of scouring the data collected by experiments on the Tevatron collider at Fermilab has all but confirmed their predictions.

“This is the strongest indication of any collider so far,” said Dmitri Denisov, spokesman for the DZero experiment on the Tevatron. “We are proud of where we are.”

Since 2001, Fermilab scientists have produced more than 500 trillion particle collisions in an effort to produce and then identify the Higgs boson as it quickly decays into other lighter particles.

Still, physicists are stopping short of saying they’ve discovered the so-called God particle that explains how the universe came to accumulate mass in the moments after the Big Bang.

“For scientists, we have a very specific mathematical target for a discovery,” said CDF physicist Rob Roser. “What that means is I would be willing to bet your house on it, but not mine.”

But physicists around the world may be more certain come Wednesday morning.

That’s when researchers at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland will release their latest findings in the hunt for Higgs. The Large Hadron Collider, operated at CERN but also at a remote operations center at Fermilab, has been running experiments with greater luminosity and more energy than those conducted on the Tevatron, providing complimentary data in the search for the Higgs boson’s mass.

Scientists at Fermilab will be gathering around 2 a.m. Wednesday to hear whether CERN’s experiments confirm their findings. If so, the official discovery of the Higgs boson could open new fields of fundamental research in how our universe works.

“We think we’re getting very, very close, and by the end of the week, we’ll be even closer,” said theorist Joe Lykken. “This is what physicists look like when they’re excited.”

But all the excitement over one of the largest impending discoveries in particle physics in decades is a little bittersweet for Fermilab’s scientists.

“The Tevatron was shut down in September of last year,” said CDF physicist Luciano Ristori. “What was presented this morning, we cannot expect much more than that.”

At least not in the search for the Higgs boson. Fermilab physicists said they would continue to mine data collected over the Tevatron’s four decades of operation for other experiments on the frontiers of particle physics.

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