March 5, 2009

U-S-A! The Higgs Race is Getting Heated

The good folks over at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, where America's particle accelerator is still going strong, claim to be closing in on the Higgs, and with the LHC still months from gathering data, it could be a glorious homecoming for domestic scientific accomplishment. But if Fabiola Gianotti, the new head of ATLAS, has anything to say about it, dark matter will be discovered under her watch: "I would be very, very happy if we discover the particle that explains 20 per cent of the universe's composition. Accelerators like the LHC allow us to study the infinitely small - the basic constituents of matter - and this can tell us about the structure and evolution of the universe, stressing the link between the infinitely small and the infinitely big."

While an international (and there are many US scientists working on the LHC project) effort is symbolic--undiscovered particles bear no racism, so to speak--it would be nice for the US to be able to boast such a significant contribution to (and perhaps beyond) the Standard Model, especially in the wake of such an anti-science administration. I mean, it's seriously embarrassing that Ron Howard is our antiparticle representative, no?

For more on the wonders of Fermilab, check out Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier and Megascience by Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne W. Kolb and Catherine Westfall. Focusing on the first two decades of research at Fermilab, the authors trace the rise of what they call "megascience," the collaborative struggle to conduct large-scale international experiments in a climate of limited federal funding. Good stuff.

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