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Atom smasher closes in on elusive particle

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GRENOBLE, FRANCE (AP) - Physicists expect the world's largest atom smasher to find a long-sought theoretical new particle _ or rule out that it exists _ by the end of 2012.

Rolf Heuer, director of the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, predicted Monday that "toward the end of next year, you will have an answer."

He told reporters at a major physics conference that new research at the $10 billion collider under the Swiss-French border has helped pinpoint the precise level of high energy where the new particle is expected to be found.

The Higgs boson isn't just any particle.

It's the linchpin of the standard model of particle physics that explains the Big Bang theory, and is believed to give mass to other other objects and creatures in the Universe.

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