Scientists announced Tuesday that they had found hints but no definitive proof of the particle that is believed to be a basic component of the universe. They hope to determine whether it exists by next year.
Few people outside physics can fully comprehend the search for the Higgs boson, which was first hypothesized 40 years ago.
But proving that the “God particle” actually exists would be “a vindication of the equations we’ve been using all these years,” said one Nobel laureate.
At a specially-arranged seminar at the Cern laboratory in Geneva, researchers presented clues in their data which suggest experts may have pinned down the “God particle” at last.
The two teams searching for the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider said they had found hints which point towards a Higgs boson with a mass between 124 and 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). A mass of 125 GeV is equivalent to about 130 times the weight of a proton found in the nucleus of an atom.
CERN’s director-general, Rolf Heuer, said “the window for the Higgs mass gets smaller and smaller” as scientists learn more. “But be careful â€“ it’s intriguing hints,” he said. “We have not found it yet. We have not excluded it yet.”
The team working on the ATLAS detector said there was only a one per cent likelihood their results occurred by chance rather than reflecting a real effect, while the CMS team quoted a figure of about five per cent.
The Higgs boson is a subatomic particle, the existence of which was proposed by the British physicist Peter Higgs in the Sixties. It is thought to endow everything in the universe with mass.
Although Sir Isaac Newton discovered that mass is the source of gravity, and Albert Einsteinâ€™s famous equation E=mcÂ˛ showed that mass is also a form of energy, what mass is and where it comes from remains mysterious.
Professor Higgs suggested that an invisible field lying across the entire cosmos interacts with the tiny particles that make up atoms to give them weight and prevent them from zipping around space at the speed of light.
The Higgs boson is the signature evidence of the theory – an unstable particle created moments after the big bang before decaying into smaller particles which form the building blocks of the universe.
To find it, researchers attempted to create a version of the big bang by firing beams of protons into one another through the LHC, a 17-mile ring based deep underneath the Swiss-French border.
Frank Wilczek, a Nobel laureate and physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said finding the Higgs boson would tie up a loose end of the standard model of physics, which requires that a Higgs-like particle exist.
“Since the equations have worked so brilliantly now for decades, it’s really nice to dot the i’s and cross the t’s,” Wilczek said.
Peter Higgs, the 82-year-old British theoretical physicist who first proposed the existence of the particle in 1964 as the missing link of a grand theory of matter and energy, was watching the announcement on a webcast with colleagues at Edinburgh University, where he is an emeritus professor.
“I won’t be going home to open a bottle of whisky to drown my sorrows, but on the other hand I won’t be going home to open a bottle of champagne either,” his colleague Alan Walker quoted him as saying after the announcement.
“If the Higgs observation is confirmed … this really will be one of the discoveries of the century,” said Themis Bowcock, professor of particle physics at Britain’s Liverpool University.
“Physicists will have uncovered a keystone in the makeup of the universe … whose influence we see and feel every day of our lives.”
The lead physicist for the team running the separate CMS experiment outlined findings similar to those of the ATLAS team. The collaborations for the ATLAS and CMS experiments each involve about 3,000 scientists and engineers. [via Huffington Post, Reuters and The Telegraph]