Betting on the greatest unsolved problems in the universe is no longer the preserve of academic superstars such as Stephen Hawking. From Thursday anyone will be able to place bets on whether the biggest physics experiments in the world will come good before 2010.

For two weeks, British-based bookmaker Ladbrokes is opening a book on five separate discoveries: life on Titan, gravitational waves, the Higgs boson, cosmic ray origins and nuclear fusion.

Bookies’ odds are not straightforward probabilities. They also take into account how much the company can afford to lose in case they have to pay out. For example, Ladbrokes reckon the odds of finding the Loch Ness monster alive and well are 66-1, so anyone betting $1 would win $66 if it turned up.

But these apparently low odds reflect the fact that thousands of people have placed bets on Nessie, rather than the likelihood of the monster’s existence. To work out the odds on the physics experiments, Lush consulted physicists and astronomers. He expects “the odds will spark debates”.

More here.