A giant magnet is placed underground in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Particle Physics laboratory, on Feb. 28. ((Salvatore Di Nolfi/Associated Press))

The world's largest particle collider — originally scheduled to begin running in November— will now begin operations in May 2008, according to the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The organization, which goes by the French acronym CERN, said on Friday the startup of the Large Hadron Collider was pushed back as a result of scheduling delays and the failure of key components.

"There’s no big red button when you're starting up a new accelerator," LHC project leader Lyn Evans said in a statement. "But we aim to be seeing high energy collisions by the summer."

The LHC — which runs for 27 kilometres underground beneath the Franco-Swiss border andis being built and run at an estimated cost of $9 billion Cdn — is expected to be the most powerful tool yet for physicists hoping to uncover the secrets behind the laws of the universe, both on the tiny scale of quantum mechanics and the huge areas affected by galaxies and black holes.

The accelerator will push two proton beams through its 27-kilometre tunnel at speeds and energies never before reached under controlled conditions and crash them into one another to create and detect a host of new particles.

One of the major delays was the failure of a key component of the accelerator, a 13-metre magnet designed to accelerate the protons to greater speeds. The component, manufactured by the U.S.-run Fermilab,which runs its own particle accelerator called the Tevetron, broke during a high-pressure test in March.

CERN officials said a plan tolaunch the collider on a "low-energy" mode in November before accelerating the protons to higher speeds has been scrapped because of the delays.

"We'll be starting up for physics in May 2008, as always foreseen, and will commission the machine to full energy in one go," said Evans.

Thousands ofresearchers from around the world will be working at the LHC to interpret the results of its particle collisions.

In particular, they will be looking for signs of the Higgs boson, a previously undetected particle thought to impart mass. Scientists have been searching for it since it was first proposed as part of the Standard Model of physics, a theory used to explain the interaction between electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces, which —along with gravity — make up the four fundamental forces of nature.

The detection or lack of detection of this and other particles could help scientists back up or disprove current theories of the universe and give us a better understanding of the origin and composition of the universe.