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US and Europe claim they will solve physics puzzle in 2012

The US Fermilab could still win the race to gather enough data to prove the existence of the long sought-after Higgs boson, despite the imminent shutdown of its flagship Tevatron accelerator, physicists have said.

At the European Physical Society’s High-Energy Physics conference in Grenoble on 27 July, Eric James from the US Fermi National Laboratory said the machine would have collected almost 10 times more data than its European rival, the Large Hadron Collider, by the time it shuts down at the end of September.

Finding the Higgs boson—which is hypothesised to explain why all other particles have mass—relies on spotting an abnormality amongst masses of data, rather than reaching particularly high energies.

Physicists at the Illinois-based facility will continue to analyse 10-years’ worth of data into 2012. This will give them a last chance to establish whether or not the Higgs particle exists within its most likely mass, said James.

Earlier in the week, the director general of Cern, the European particle physics centre near Geneva, said that detectors at the LHC would generate enough data by the end of 2012 to settle the same question.

Last year, a US advisory panel recommended extending the running of the Tevatron into 2013, but in January the government said there was no funding.

Speaking to reporters at the conference, Rolf Heuer, Cern’s director, highlighted the need for patience. “Don’t expect too much too quickly,” he said. “You need a tremendous amount of collisions and statistics to find these things.”

Nonetheless Heuer called fluctuations found at around 140 giga-electronvolts, a measure of mass, “intriguing”. The Tevatron has also found an excess of data at a similar mass, but neither group has yet looked at enough data to claim more than a statistical variation.

Michel Spiro, president of the Cern Council, says that based on the LHC’s results, physicists will create a European Strategy for Particle Physics next year. This “new vision” would be in place for a meeting of member state ministers in December 2012, he said.