America to end its search for the 'God particle'
The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) is pulling the plug on the Tevatron, the only American particle collider capable of finding the Higgs boson, or 'God particle.'
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In a letter to the chairman of the DOE's High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP), which had looked at options for extending the Tevatron's run, William Brinkman, DOE's director of science, explained that "the current budgetary climate is very challenging and additional funding had not been identified."Skip to next paragraph
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Rather than pushing to build US colliders that keep the country at the forefront of the energy frontier, the advisory panel has recommended pushing what it calls the intensity frontier – especially in probing the properties of particles known as neutrinos.
The energy frontier leads to discoveries of particles hypothesized to have existed in the smallest fraction of a second after the big bang, which formed the observable universe. "It requires a lot of energy to reach them," Henderson explains.
At the intensity frontier, physicists are looking for very rare interactions and processes. "Hidden in those processes are extremely sensitive measures of our present understanding of particle physics," he says.
The stars of the intensity frontier, neutrinos, are particles which have minuscule mass and rarely interact with matter. Yet physicists say these sub-atomic no-see-ums may play important roles in the ongoing evolution of the universe and also could point to new physics beyond the standard model.
"We want to be the world leader in intensity-frontier physics," Henderson says. Indeed, Fermilab is already moving in that direction, with a strong endorsement from a HEPAP subgroup that focuses on particle physics.
Getting there could be a challenge, because the US, hoping for a future machine, the International Linear Collider, to supplant the Tevatron, in effect deferred to Japan as the leader on the high-intensity neutrino frontier, says Lawrence Sulak, a physicist at Boston University who currently is at CERN on a sabbatical. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph was less specific about the goal of American physicists.]
For the past decade, physicists in Japan have led an international collaboration on the T2K project. A proton accelerator near Tokai generates a beam of neutrinos, which is aimed at the Super Kamiokande neutrino detector in the Japanese Alps near Toyama.
In November, the underground detector at Super Kamiokande recorded its first neutrinos from the beam.
It would take a decade for the US to catch up, Dr. Sulak says, and he worries that the effort could get quashed "before we get there."
As if to underscore his concern, the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, planned for a one-time gold mine near Lead, S.D., faces what proponents say they hope is a temporary budget problem.
Planners envision the lab as home to detectors that will receive the high-intensity beam of neutrinos that post-Tevatron Fermilab will generate. So far, some $300 million has been committed to the project.
But just before the Christmas holiday, a federal science panel refused to approve an additional $29 million to, among other things, ensure the mine's safety as the lab's design progresses, and to maintain infrastructure for experiments already installed in the mine.
In a statement released last month, the DUSEL team expressed its hope that the issues triggering a thumbs-down on the $29 million "can be addressed to the satisfaction of all parties to this important initiative."
IN PICTURES: The Large Hadron Collider