In search of `God particle'

LONDON, AUG. 21. They call it the God particle: a mysterious sub-atomic fragment that permeates the entire universe and explains how everything is the way it is. Nobody has ever seen the God particle; some say it doesn't exist but, in the ultimate leap of faith, physicists across the world are preparing to build one of the most ambitious and expensive science experiments ever to try to find it.

At a summit meeting in Beijing yesterday, experts from countries including Britain, Japan, America and Germany announced they had agreed on a blueprint for the new experiment — a gigantic atom smashing machine called the International Linear Collider. Now, they must convince their respective Governments to meet the anticipated �3 billion price tag.

Buried underground away from vibrations on the surface, the collider would accelerate particles from opposite ends of a 32-km tunnel at near-light speeds and smash them into each other head-on. One stream of particles would be electrons; the other would be positrons, their antimatter partner.

The scientists hope the resulting cataclysmic explosion of heat, light and radiation will re-create the conditions found in the first few billionths of a second after the Big Bang.

And when that happens, they hope the God particle, otherwise known as the Higgs boson, will show itself. If it gets built, the new machine could open the door to a shadowy new domain of physics.

``The International Linear Collider will take our science into completely new areas,'' said Brian Foster at Oxford University.

``It will hopefully reveal new and exciting physics, addressing the 21st century agenda of compelling questions about dark matter and dark energy, the existence of extra dimensions and the fundamental nature of matter, energy, space and time.''

Key to these discoveries is the Higgs boson particle, which scientists have been searching for since the British physicist Peter Higgs proposed it in the 1960s. The physicists want to find it because such a particle would plug a hole in a theory that is both their greatest triumph and their biggest headache.

``We keep on looking for the Higgs boson and we keep on not finding it, but we now have an indication of where it is,'' said Professor George Kalmus of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

He says existing accelerator machines, built in the shape of rings, just cannot get the particles travelling fast enough or to collide with enough force to reach the energy levels where the Higgs particle is believed to exist. — Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004