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Scientists close in on Higgs boson

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DAVOS, Switzerland -- The world should know with certainty by the middle of this year whether a subatomic particle discovered by scientists is a long-sought Higgs boson, the head of the world's largest atom smasher said Saturday.

Rolf Heuer, director of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, said he is confident that "towards the middle of the year, we will be there." By then, he said reams of data from the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border near Geneva should have been assessed.

The timing could also help Scottish physicist Peter Higgs win a Noble Prize, Heuer said.

CERN's atom smasher helped scientists declare in July their discovery of a new subatomic particle that Heuer calls "very, very like" a Higgs boson, that promises a new realm of understanding the universe.

The machine, which has been creating high-energy collisions of protons to investigate dark matter, antimatter and the creation of the universe, is being put to rest early this year. The data from it, however, takes longer to analyze.

"Suppose the Higgs boson is a special snowflake. So you have to identify the snowflake, in a big snowstorm, in front of a background of snowfields," Heuer said by way of analogy. "That is very difficult. You need a tremendous amount of snowfall in order to identify the snowflakes and this is why it takes time."

He said the standard model of particle physics describes only five per cent of the universe, which many theorize occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.

To explain how subatomic particles, such as electrons, protons and neutrons, were themselves formed, Higgs and others in the 1960s envisioned an energy field where particles interact with a key particle, the Higgs boson. The idea was that other particles attract Higgs bosons and the more they attract, the bigger their mass will be.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2013 A5

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