Are we closing in on "God"?
Researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have announced that they’ve found "intriguing hints" that the Higgs boson particle -- dubbed the "God particle" for its theorized role as a building block of the universe -- actually exists.
While there is much more atom-smashing to do before the elusive subatomic particle is declared found, physicists say that moment could come as early as next year.
"We still need many more collisions next year in order to get a definite answer on the Shakespeare questions on the Higgs: To be or not to be," said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, CERN’s director-general. "But I think we have made extremely good progress."
That progress has set the scientific community abuzz.
Named after British physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed its existence in 1964, the Higgs boson is thought to be the particle that helps impart mass to all matter in the universe.
It is the mysterious missing link in the so-called Standard Model of physics, which explains how the basic building blocks of all matter fit together.
According to background material written by CERN, without the Higgs boson, “the universe would be a very different place...no ordinary matter as we know it, no chemistry, no biology, and no people.”
After decades of work, researchers have been unable to prove the particle’s existence -- a discovery that would rank among the most significant in the history of physics and answer some of science’s most pressing questions about the creation of the universe.
Fnding the "God particle" was announced as a major goal of CERN’s $10 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which since 2008 has sent particle beams smashing together at close to the speed of light in tunnels below the French-Swiss border.
On December 13, scientists said two independent experiments aiming to pinpoint the mass of the particle had registered "spikes" in their data at roughly the same point -- 124 to 126 gigaelectronvolts.
Physicist Fabiola Gianotti, who led one of the experiments, said the data might lead to an imminent discovery.
"It's too early to tell if the success is due to fluctuation of the background or if it is due to something more interesting," she said. "I think that only more studies and more data will allow us to answer that question. But the nice thing is that we know that by the end 2012 -- sooner if we are lucky -- we should be able to say the final word."
She said that such results were not expected to have come so quickly given the staggering complexity of the work.
"These extremely complex detectors are really working very well. And in the past, we were thinking that it will take a long time, much longer to understand them, to calibrate them," she said. "These detectors have hundreds of millions of channels, with many different techniques, some of these technologies completely new. They are big and, at the same time, they are extremely complex and extremely precise.
"We have established a solid foundation for passionately exciting months ahead," she added.
All eyes will be on CERN next year as it continues the hunt for the Higgs boson, but also as it pursues other groundbreaking experiments in particle physics.
French and Italian researchers shocked the scientific community in September when they presented measurements seeming to show subatomic neutrino particles traveling faster than the speed of light -- which, according to the work of Albert Einstein, is impossible.
They will look to confirm those findings as well.
Written by Richard Solash, with agency reports