Race For the Higgs (or no Higgs)
In the early 1990's, under the first President Bush, the United States planned the Superconducting Supercollider. Designed to find (or possibly not find) the legendary Higgs Boson, the project was spearheaded by Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman--see his book "The God Particle." The SSC was cancelled during the Clinton administration. The unemployed physicists took jobs in other fields, like supernova cosmology, and tried to find new energies there. In the ensuing years, with the construction of CERN, the Higgs was expected to be found by Europeans.
Tommaso Dorigo has kept us faithfully posted about progress at the CDF in Fermilab. From the AAAS meeting in nearby Chicago, we learned that they may find (or not find) the Higgs first. One week after turning on, the LHC suffered damage (picture above) that will keep it out of action until next year. A CERN physicist I talked to called this a "gas release," most people would call it an explosion. Director Pier Oddone, whom this writer was introduced to in St. Louis last May, put the odds at better than 50% of Fermilab finding the Higgs. If the mass is lower, in the 170 MeV range, Fermilab's odds go to 96%. The CERN people visting Chicago would heartily disagree, so the race is on.
There is also the possibility that the Higgs does not exist, at least at the mass range predicted. If so, the two teams will be racing for something that is forever beyond their reach. With physicists invading astronomy with their high-energy methods, it is tempting for competing groups to make premature claims. From experience with "inflatons" and "dark energy," even standard models can be wrong. Higgs or no, CDF and LHC both explore energies where no one has gone before.