Northern Ireland

Physicist Steve Myers lauds speed of Higgs boson progress

Control room at Cern
Image caption The first evidence of the Higgs boson was detected in July.

A Belfast physicist who helped find the Higgs boson has said progress was made far faster than expected.

Steve Myers said the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva outstripped its competitors in the race to discover the missing piece to the theory of why matter has mass.

Scientists said they had unearthed a "Higgs-like" particle in July.

Accelerators like the LHC smash together particles at extraordinary energies in a bid to create a Higgs.

The particle should exist only for a fleeting fraction of a second before decaying into other particles or flashes of light that can be caught and counted.

Image caption Steve Myers said the collider's performance had 'exceeded all expectations'

Mr Myers said: "We never expected to run at this energy, we thought it would take us five years to discover the Higgs boson, running at the machine's maximum energy, so it has been much faster.

"We never thought we could have operated at the higher rate that we are operating at."

Mr Myers is director for accelerators and technology at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

The LHC experiment is aimed at providing further crucial insights into the Big Bang, or the creation of the universe, that scientists believe happened about 13.7 billion years ago.

Dark energy

The three-year run of the world's most powerful particle accelerator, which sends matter around a magnet-lined tunnel under the French-Swiss border at previously unprecedented speeds to produce high energy collisions, was crowned this year by the first evidence of the elusive Higgs boson and a new performance milestone.

The experiment team claimed there was a one-in-3.5 million chance that the signal they saw would appear if there were no Higgs particle.

Mr Myers said: "No other collider has ever worked like this, it is by far the best ever. The rate at which progress has been made is almost 10 times faster."

He said a similar project in the US, Tevatron, had been operating for 28 years and produced fewer collisions than the giant underground laboratory at CERN.

The LHC will be shut down early in 2013 for maintenance until the end of 2014. Running will resume in 2015, with increased collision energy, as scientists probe the secrets of dark energy.

Mr Myers added: "The LHC's performance has exceeded all expectations over the last three years. The accelerator delivered more than six million billion collisions and the luminosity has continuously increased.

"It is a fantastic achievement and I am incredibly proud of my team."

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