CERN Physicists Say They Have Observed Higgs-Like Particle

Wednesday, 04 July 2012 08:54 AM

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, said its researchers observed a particle that may be the Higgs boson, a theoretical particle that could explain where mass comes from.

CERN’s experiments uncovered a new boson, Joe Incandela, spokesman for one of the research institute’s experiments, said at a seminar at its Geneva headquarters.

The preliminary results are “dramatic,” Incandela said in a statement on CERN’s website. “This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found. 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.”

The announcement brings humankind closer to answering a millennia-old question that the ancient Greeks wrestled with: what is matter made of? The particle is a missing link in the Standard Model, a theory explaining how the universe is built, and its existence would help scientists gain a better understanding of how galaxies hold together. It also could open a door to exploring other parts of physics such as superparticles or dark matter that telescopes can’t detect.

Peter Higgs, the U.K. physicist after whom the particle is named, was one of the theorists attending CERN’s meeting in Geneva today.

$10.5 Billion Collider

The data being presented today are the latest from the $10.5 billion Large Hadron Collider, a 27 kilometer (17-mile) circumference particle accelerator buried on the border of France and Switzerland. CERN has 10,000 scientists working on the project, in which billions of subatomic particles are hurled at each other at velocities approaching the speed of light.

The collider will provide the experiments with more data later this year, giving scientists a more complete picture of the observed new particle.

A Higgs boson would only exist for a trillionth of a trillionth of a second if the particle collider generates one, so the scientists have been looking for particles it may be decomposing into.

To declare the boson is discovered, physicists use the statistical standard of “five sigma,” meaning that there should only be a 1 in 3.4 million chance that a sighting would be due to chance. The new particle has a five-sigma level of significance, Incandela said.

Physics Conference

The researchers are presenting the data as the bi-annual International Conference on High Energy Physics begins in Melbourne today.

CERN Director General Rolf-Dieter Heuer has said if its researchers don’t find the particle by the end of this year, they will exclude its existence. Failing to find the Higgs boson would have lent credibility to alternative theories that explain the mechanism that allows particles to have mass.

“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” Heuer said in the statement. “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.”

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