- The Tevatron, formerly the world’s most powerful particle collider, will cease operations by October 1. It has been supplanted by the Large Hadron Collider.
- Despite the shutdown, physicists at the facility are poring over data that might reveal evidence of the long-sought Higgs boson.
- Scientists at Fermilab hope to build a new accelerator called Project X by 2020 and, after that, a successor to the LHC.
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Underneath a relict patch of illinois prairie, complete with a small herd of grazing buffalo, protons and antiprotons whiz along in opposite paths around a four-mile-long tunnel. And every second, hundreds of thousands of them slam together in a burst of obscure particles. It’s another day at the Tevatron, a particle accelerator embedded in the verdant grounds of the 6,800-acre Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory complex in Batavia, about 50 miles due west of Chicago. There have been many days like this one, some routine, some spectacular; of the 17 fundamental particles that physicists believe constitute all the ordinary matter and energy in the universe, three were discovered here. But there won’t be many more such days. By October 1 the power supplies for more than 1,000 liquid-helium-cooled superconducting magnets will have been turned off forever, the last feeble stream of particles absorbed by a metal target, ending the 28-year run of what was until recently the most powerful particle accelerator in the world.
For several hundred physicists here who have spent nearly two decades searching for a hypothetical particle called the Higgs boson, the closure means ceding the hunt—and possible Nobel glory—to their archrival, the Large Hadron Collider, a newer, more powerful accelerator at CERN on the Swiss-French border. With its 17-mile circumference and higher energies, the LHC has displaced the Tevatron as the world’s premier particle physics research instrument, a position it will retain well into the next decade.
This article was originally published with the title Waiting for the Higgs.