By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse
Some of the world's leading particle physicists are gathering in Oxford this weekend to plan the next generation of machines to study the building blocks of matter.
It is one of the ironies of science that to probe the matter on the smallest scales requires the largest of machines like the accelerators at CERN in Switzerland.
To do this, scientists take particles like electrons, protons and their associated anti-particles and smash them into one another.
|New particles are created out of energy|
When matter and anti-matter collide, they annihilate each other in a flash of energy. Out of that energy, if it is great enough, other particles can form briefly.
Such minute flashes of energy are in many ways a recreation of the conditions in the Big Bang, the explosion of space and time that created the Universe about 15 billion years ago.
Physicists from around the world are gathering to discuss plans to build a new machine to hunt down a particle that has been predicted but not yet seen.
The elusive particle is called the Higgs boson. This is a particle that is fundamental to our current understanding of the nature of matter. It is responsible for giving almost all other particles mass. Without it, the Universe would weigh nothing.
|The CERN particle accelerator|
Particle physicists have been hunting for the Higgs boson for years and they believe they are getting very close.
They believe they know at what energy they should detect the Higgs. If they cannot find it, then our theories about the structure of matter may have to be revised.