The hunt for the Higgs Boson is over. Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva announced today that they have found a new subatomic particle that could be the Higgs Boson, the basic building block of the universe.
“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.”
At a seminar held at CERN1 as a curtain raiser to the year’s major particle physics conference, ICHEP 2012 in Melbourne, the ATLAS and CMS experiments presented their latest preliminary results in the search for the long sought Higgs particle.
Peter Higgs, the 83-year-old British physicist who proposed the existence of the Higgs boson in the 1960s, was also at CERN today to welcome the great news. Clearly overwhelmed, he told the symposium: “It is an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime.”
His theory explains how particles clumped together to form stars, planets and life itself. Without the Higgs particle, the particles that make up the universe would have remained like a soup, the theory goes.
The discovery is the biggest leap in physics for decades – filling in a crucial gap in our understanding of the atom. In the long term, the discovery could lead to new technologies, reports the Stuff (NZ).
“They have indeed discovered a particle consistent with the Higgs boson,” John Womersley, head of a British public research body, told journalists in London on Wednesday, reports Reuters. “These results mark a significant breakthrough in our understanding of the fundamental laws that govern the universe.”
Joe Incandela, spokesman for one of the two teams hunting for the Higgs particle told an audience at CERN near Geneva: “This is a preliminary result, but we think it’s very strong and very solid.”
Rolph Heuer added: “As a layman, I would say I think we have it.” Addressing the scientists assembled in the CERN auditorium, Heuer asked: “Would you agree?” They burst into applause.
“We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The outstanding performance of the LHC and ATLAS and the huge efforts of many people have brought us to this exciting stage,” said ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, “but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication.”
“The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found,” said Joe Incandela. “The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this reason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks.”
“It’s hard not to get excited by these results,” said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. “ We stated last year that in 2012 we would either find a new Higgs-like particle or exclude the existence of the Standard Model Higgs.”
“With all the necessary caution, it looks to me that we are at a branching point: the observation of this new particle indicates the path for the future towards a more detailed understanding of what we’re seeing in the data,” he added.
The results presented today are labelled preliminary. They are based on data collected in 2011 and 2012, with the 2012 data still under analysis. Publication of the analyses shown today is expected around the end of July. A more complete picture of today’s observations will emerge later this year after the LHC provides the experiments with more data.
In December last year scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the ‘Big Bang’ particle accelerator which recreates conditions a billionth of a second after the birth of the universe – revealed they had caught a first tantalising glimpse of the Higgs. Since then they have sifted through vast quantities of data from innumerable high energy collisions in an effort to reduce the odds of being wrong.
The Standard Model describes the fundamental particles from which we, and every visible thing in the universe, are made, and the forces acting between them. All the matter that we can see, however, appears to be no more than about 4% of the total. A more exotic version of the Higgs particle could be a bridge to understanding the 96% of the universe that remains obscure.
What scientists do not yet know from the latest findings is whether the particle they have discovered is the Higgs boson as described by the Standard Model. It could also be a variant of the Higgs idea or an entirely new subatomic particle that could force a rethink on the fundamental structure of matter.