By Benjamin Gaul
Imagine a subatomic particle so important to the understanding of space, time and matter, that renowned physicist Leon Lederman nicknamed it “the God particle.” Physicists now say they have found the “strongest indication to date” to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson.
The announcement of its potential discovery comes from the Department of Energy’s Fermilab near Chicago. More findings will be announced from the giant underground particle accelerator at CERN, the noted physics lab in the Alps on the French-Swiss border.
“This is one of the cornerstones of how we understand the universe,” said Rob Roser, a Fermilab physicist, “and if it’s not there, we have to go back and check our assumptions about how the universe exists.” He went on to say, “The Higgs particle, if it’s real, will show itself in different ways. We need for all of them to be consistent before we can say for sure we’ve seen it.”
Fermilab in Chicago was home to the Tevatron, an atom smasher that was shut down last year because CERN’s Large Hadron Collider is far more powerful.
Luciano Ristori, a physicist at Fermilab and the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics explains how difficult detecting the Higgs Boson is, “During its life, the Tevatron must have produced thousands of Higgs particles, if they actually exist, and it’s up to us to try to find them in the data we have collected. We have developed sophisticated simulation and analysis programs to identify Higgs-like patterns. Still, it is easier to look for a friend’s face in a sports stadium filled with 100,000 people than to search for a Higgs-like event among trillions of collisions.”
British physicist Peter Higgs who proposed the existence of Higgs Boson in 1964, hailed the findings of European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) on Wednesday, calling it “an occasion for celebration.” He went on to say, “For me, it is really an incredible thing that’s happened in my lifetime,” at the press conference held in Geneva, announcing the discovery. The effort to actually find the particle has taken decades, using tremendous amounts of energy to crash subatomic particles into each other in giant underground tracks, called Super Colliders.
Finding the Higgs particle might not be of immediate practical value, at least not yet, but Roser argued that when the electron was first discovered in 1897, nobody guessed how it would lead to the high-tech, wired world we live in, today.
Physicists say that without the Higgs Boson –as CERN explained in a background paper– “the universe would be a very different place … no ordinary matter as we know it, no chemistry, no biology, and no people.” It should help explain how we, and the rest of the universe, exist. It might also explain why the matter created in the Big Bang has mass, and is able to coalesce.