Scientist slept through ‘big bang’ switch-on 194


By Michael MacLeod

THE man behind the biggest scientific experiment ever has dismissed speculation it could end the world as “a load of crap.”

Professor Peter Higgs dreamed up the “God particle” theory 44 years ago, in a bid to explain how sub-atomic particles gain mass.

The question mystified scientists until today’s switch-on of the $5 billion underground Large Hadron Collider (LHC) device below the Franco-Swiss border.

But the 79-year-old granddad admitted he slept through the switching on of the massive particle accelerator at 8.30am.

He quipped: “I probably wasn’t even completely awake or conscious by then.”

An hour after the switch-on, Higgs returned to the Edinburgh University office where he first formulated his theory in July 1964.

Asked what he thought of theories that the LHC could create a black hole and swallow the world, he said: “I think it’s a load of crap.

“The people who try to get injunctions to stop the LHC from starting really ought to know better.

“The fear expressed is that things like mini black holes could be produced and we all know that black holes gobble up parts of the universe.

“But those are colossal black holes out in the middle of the galaxy, whereas these are mini black holes which may be similar in some sense, but they are extremely small and evaporate quickly.”

Higgs is widely expected to be awarded with a Nobel Prize for his work, but said the multinational European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) experiment was “a far greater achievement.”

On visiting the CERN site in April, he was “surprised” to find the CERN site was even bigger than he ever imagined.

He said: “I was taken around for a looked at the tunnel in what was a fairly exhausting time for me.

“I was extremely impressed the scale was even more colossal than I expected, and the machine itself had been put together from components made all over the world.

“The organisation of this is a great achievement.”

If successful the LHC will prove that tiny particles passing through it get their mass by being dragged through a mediator, which theoreticians dubbed the Higgs Boson.

If the experiment fails and doesn’t expose the Higgs Boson, scientists will still have plenty of results to study.

And Richard Kenway, head of physics at Edinburgh University said failure would be actually be “more exciting.”

He said: “We have a huge amount of confidence we’ll find the Higgs Boson but if it’s not there, we’ve got something wrong and the whole edifice comes crashing down into pieces.

“That would in a sense be even more exciting and it’s conceivable we might discover wacky things.

“It might discover space is not three-dimensional as we see it but there is an extra dimension of space which we as human beings aren’t sensitive to.

“At this point you’re ripping up and rewriting the text books.”

Prof Higgs said he had a bottle of champagne in his cellar at home in Edinburgh’s new town, but was yet to put it on ice.

He added: “I’ll celebrate once we get the results.”

The initial theory came to him over a weekend at home, rather than immediately.

He said: “It wasn’t a Eureka moment.

“It was a gradual realisation that stored in a different part of my memory was something which helped me to understand how to solve what I was worrying about at that time.

“When I came back on the Monday to work here the first thing I did was go and check various other papers to see if my recollection was correct and it would help me.”