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British scientists given cash backing for Big Bang research

British physicists working on a giant atom-smashing machine built beneath the French-Swiss Alps have won a multimillion-pound grant to reveal how the universe was born.

The 10-year, £16.7 million grant will be used to unravel the mysteries surrounding antimatter and dark matter, the possibility of extra space-time dimensions and the existence of the elusive Higgs boson - a particle believed to give other particles mass.

It was awarded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to Durham University's Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology (IPPP), which is a research centre dedicated to understanding what happens when high energy particles are smashed into each other at very high energies.

IPPP experts are providing the theory and analysis behind a number of experiments to be carried out at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a gigantic particle accelerator built 100m underground on the Swiss/French border at Geneva, which aims to recreate conditions in the early universe just after the big bang.

Professor Nigel Glover, director of the IPPP, said: "The IPPP has already won an international reputation for its research into particle physics.

"The new funding from STFC, together with the new investment from Durham University, will allow us to continue this vital link between theory and experiment and ensure that UK particle physics continues to thrive and play a pivotal role in large, ground-breaking experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider.

"It will also help the UK prepare for, and contribute to, the design and planning of physics programmes at future new facilities."

The interplay between theory and experiment is vital to new developments and breakthroughs in particle physics and the understanding of our universe.

Phenomenology is not only concerned with making theoretical predictions that can be tested by experimental facilities, but also with using the experimental data gathered at these facilities to find evidence for new physics and to develop new theories. Close collaboration with experimental colleagues is a vital aspect of the work.

Projects like the LHC rely heavily on this marriage of theory and experiment as they are likely to produce completely new and unexpected results that will need interpreting.

Professor Keith Mason, chief executive of the STFC, said: "Funding the IPPP is a key element of STFC's continued support of fundamental physics and we welcome the large investment in staff and buildings by the university.

"Since its creation in 2000, the IPPP has been a tremendous success and has revitalised phenomenology in the UK."

The centre is funded in partnership between the STFC and Durham University and the new grant will be enhanced by increased investment from the university.

Durham University's increased investment will provide an extension to the Ogden Centre, which houses the IPPP, massively upgraded computer facilities and new permanent academic appointments.

It will also mean additional research positions and further funding for workshops, visitors and travel to support the wider UK phenomenology community.

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