Even if its existence is finally proven, it will only apply to the relatively small part of the universe explained by the Standard Model. It will not tell us about so-called dark matter or dark energy, which scientists believe make up about 96 percent of the cosmos.
However, it could be a step towards a theory of everything that encompasses dark matter and energy, as well as the force of gravity, which the Standard Model also does not explain.
Those early glimpses may of course not be borne out in the latest data, which would provoke serious head scratching and debate about where to look next. They may discover the Higgs exactly as postulated.
However, scientists say the most exciting news from CERN, whether it comes next week or later this year, would be the discovery of a type of Higgs particle, but not quite as described in the Standard Model. This, they say, could provide a road sign on where to look for answers on dark matter, dark energy and even esoteric concepts like parallel universes.
“Something more exotic could take us beyond the Standard Model and into the rest of the universe that we currently know nothing about,” Gillies said.
He said just as Albert Einstein’s theories enveloped and built on the work of Isaac Newton, the work being done by the thousands of physicists at CERN has the potential to do the same.
“It’s where we’d like it to take us,” he said.
In a hard-up world paying the bill for multiple financial crises, some question the value of big science projects like the Large Hadron Collider and scientists feel an ever increasing pressure to justify the expense to policymakers. The collider cost about 3 billion euros (US$3.8 billion) to build.
CERN’s highest profile gift to the real economy was the source code for the World Wide Web, written by scientist Tim Berners-Lee when he worked at the research center in the 1990s.
Asked what the Higgs hunt could bestow on the world, Nash said the research is too leading edge and too nascent to say. At this point it is about the thirst for knowledge, something he argues the public well understands.
“We do bring a lot of things back,” he said. “But when I talk to taxi drivers or builders they never ask that.”