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Atom-smasher may prove God particle

Deborah Smith Science Editor

September 9, 2008

IT HAS been heralded as a monumental creation that will reveal the fundamental nature of the universe, but also as a doomsday machine that could destroy the planet.

The world's biggest instrument - a $9 billion atom-smasher that will recreate conditions not seen since a split second after the big bang 14 billion years ago - will be switched on tomorrow.

Holding their breath will be Australian scientists who have helped design and construct one of the huge detectors in the device that will search for an elusive subatomic particle, dubbed the "God particle".

A physicist from the University of Sydney, Kevin Varvell, said he was excited that after 20years of planning, the instrument - called the large hadron collider - would begin operation to expore the nature of matter.

"At last we can test some of our ideas about what we are made of. It will help answer some big and deep questions," he said.

Built 100 metres below the Swiss countryside by CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the collider will fire two beams of particles in opposite directions around a 27-kilometre ring at almost the speed of light.

When the beams collide head on, they will create fireballs and showers of subatomic debris never witnessed before.

Dr Varvell said the impacts could produce man-made mini black holes, reveal that the universe has extra dimensions that are normally curled up, and throw light on the nature of the mysterious dark matter which makes up most of the cosmos.

It should also reveal whether the Higgs boson, or God particle, exists or not.

According to the standard theory of matter, the boson gives everything its mass, and the Australian team helped design the 7000-tonne ATLAS detector in one of the cathedral-sized caverns that will look for it.

Dr Varvell said if the boson was not spotted,"that would tell us something very profound as well".

New theories about the underlying physics of the universe would have to be developed, he said.

Dr Varvell will give a lecture on the collider with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki at the University of Sydney on Wednesday.

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