In 2008, when faulty wiring closed down the $10-billion Large Hadron Collider for more than a year, many wondered whether physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research had a white elephant on their hands.
But the revelation Wednesday that the collider's ATLAS and CMS detectors had found a new particle that could well be the long-searched-for Higgs boson would seem to put any lingering worries to rest.
The LHC, as the collider near Geneva is known, has been amassing data at a rate no one thought possible even as recently as February, said Vivek Sharma, a UC San Diego physicist and member of the CMS research group. Just since June, the LHC has tracked as many proton-proton collisions as it recorded in all of 2011: 400 trillion.
"The fact that we could accomplish this is a big surprise," he said.
Robert Cousins, a UCLA physicist who's also affiliated with the CMS team, attributed the collider's success to several factors.
Technicians managed to squeeze more protons into the beams that the physicists smash together to spawn subatomic particles to study. That's not easy, since protons have a positive charge and they tend to repel each other when they get too close, disrupting their intended path.