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Many physicists here spent the night huddled in the hall so that they could secure a prized seat. By 8:00 a.m., the fire brigade was turning away bleary-eyed scientists who had queued for hours. The lucky few who made it inside the lecture theatre at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, witnessed the end of an epic quest in high-energy physics — and the start of a new campaign.

With the announcement on 4 July that they had found the Higgs boson, physicists unveiled the final piece of the standard model of particle physics: a theoretical framework that describes with pinpoint accuracy all fundamental particles and forces except gravity. Discovering the Higgs boson had been billed as the main goal of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a US$6-billion, 27-kilo­metre-circumference proton collider that, along with its four building-sized detectors, took thousands of physicists decades to assemble.

The discovery has given the machine a new mission: to pin down the properties of the Higgs boson. Researchers will also be scouring the data for hints of something beyond the standard model — a still-more comprehensive theory that could lead physicists towards a unified understanding of the Universe.

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