Scientists at the Cern laboratory in Switzerland have said that the Atlas research project may prove the existence of extra dimensions and the Higgs boson as early as next year.
The Atlas experiment, which analyses the results of proton collisions inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is designed to observe phenomena involving massive particles, such as the Higgs boson, extra dimensions, and particles that could make up 'dark matter' — all of which have previously been unobservable with lower-power particle accelerators.
Fabiola Gianotti, lead researcher on the Atlas experiment — one of six particle-accelerator experiments taking place at Cern — said in a report published on the Cern website on Monday that the project has produced results even more quickly than expected.
"Atlas has worked very well since the beginning. Its overall data-taking efficiency is greater than 90 percent," Gianotti said. "The quality and maturity of the reconstruction and simulation software turned out to be better than we expected for this initial stage of the experiment."
Gianotti said that future research, such as probing for extra dimensions, could yield results sooner than she had predicted. "In just a few months of data taking, Atlas has observed the known elementary particles, up to the heavy W and Z Bosons and the even heavier top quark," she wrote.
Cern hopes that by combining Atlas with CMS, another large particle physics detector, the project will be able to confirm or dismiss the existence of the Higgs boson and discover 'supersymmetry' at masses of up to one teraelectronvolt (TeV) by the end of next year. Supersymmetry concerns the relation between elementary particles of one spin and particles that differ by half a unit of spin, known as 'superpartners'.
"We are producing new results all the time now," Gianotti said. "We plan to release a new wave of results early next year, for the 2011 winter conferences."
As well as using the Atlas project to look at proton-proton collisions within the LHC, scientists at Cern began looking at lead-ion collisions at the start of November. The first run of this experiment is due to end at the beginning of December.
Cern will service the LHC over the Christmas period and replace components, such as failing power supplies and calorimeter optical links, in time for a new run planned to begin at the start of 2011.