Hawking bets CERN mega-machine won't find 'God's Particle'

Sep 9, 2008

LONDON (AFP) — Renowned British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has bet 100 
dollars (70 euros) that a mega-experiment this week will not find an elusive 
particle seen as a holy grail of cosmic science, he said Tuesday.

In the most complex scientific experiment ever undertaken, the Large Hadron 
Collider (LHC) will be switched on Wednesday, accelerating sub-atomic particles 
to nearly the speed of light before smashing them together.

"The LHC will increase the energy at which we can study particle interactions 
by a factor of four. According to present thinking, this should be enough to 
discover the Higgs particle," Hawking told BBC radio.

"I think it will be much more exciting if we don't find the Higgs. That will 
show something is wrong, and we need to think again. I have a bet of 100 
dollars that we won't find the Higgs," added Hawking, whose books including "A 
Brief History of Time" have sought to popularise study of stellar physics.

On Wednesday the first protons will be injected into a 27-kilometre (16.9-mile) 
ring-shaped tunnel, straddling the Swiss-French border at the headquarters of 
the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Physicists have long puzzled over how particles acquire mass. In 1964, a 
British physicist, Peter Higgs, came up with this idea: there must exist a 
background field that would act rather like treacle.

Some scientists were however more optimistic.

Hubert Reeves, the French astrophysician, told the Swiss daily Le Matin that 
the invention could bring "unexpected results" that would change the world of 
particle physics forever.

"This machine will probably bring unexpected results that could turn particle 
physics on its head," Reeves said.

"It's a really impressive tool. It can go as deep underground as the length of 
a cathedral," he said.

Particles passing through it would acquire mass by being dragged through a 
mediator, which theoreticians dubbed the Higgs Boson.

The standard quip about the Higgs is that it is the "God Particle" -- it is 
everywhere but remains frustratingly elusive.

While questioning the likelihood of finding Higgs Bosons, Hawking said the 
experiment could discover superpartners, particles that would be 
"supersymmetric partners" to particles already known about.

"Their existence would be a key confirmation of string theory, and they could 
make up the mysterious dark matter that holds galaxies together," he told the 

"Whatever the LHC finds, or fails to find, the results will tell us a lot about 
the structure of the universe," he added.

Hawking, the 66-year-old Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge 
University, was diagnosed with the muscle-wasting motor neuron disease at the 
age of 22.

He is in a wheelchair and speaks with the aid of a computer and voice 

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