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America to end its search for the 'God particle'

The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) is pulling the plug on the Tevatron, the only American particle collider capable of finding the Higgs boson, or 'God particle.'

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The Tevatron is buried deep underground, but the location of the giant particle collider has been traced in red on this undated photo. The Tevatron collider, four miles in circumference, accelerates protons and antiprotons close to the speed of light and smashes them into each other millions of times per second as it searches for the Higgs boson, or 'God particle.' With the Tevatron's funding cut, the search will continue only in Europe, at CERN.

Fermilab / UPI / Newscom / File

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For nearly three decades, the United States has hosted the world's most powerful particle collider – a critical tool scientists use to probe the nature of matter and the origins of the universe.

This week, the director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which operates the machine, announced that the lab would pull the plug on the device, known as the Tevatron, at the end of the current fiscal year.

The announcement marks the second high-profile US science and technology program to undergo significant transition in 2011. Word of the Tevatron's retirement comes as NASA's shuttle program works its way through its final two scheduled flights.

In each case, fiscal challenges have prompted presidential administrations to seek ways the US can remain an influential player – but with sustainable budgets. And the rising cost of ambitions in both spheres have dictated a higher degree of international participation on future projects than has been the case historically.

To some in the field, the loss of the Tevatron – with no next-generation US replacement – represents evidence of erosion eating away at America's scientific leadership. Others see it as a transition that still allows for cutting-edge physics.

The US still hosts a powerful collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. But it's only capable of about 10 percent of the Tevatron's collision energy, and it's designed to answer a different set of research questions.

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