Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), answers journalist's question about the scientific seminar to deliver the latest update in the search for the Higgs boson at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, July 4, 2012. The head of the world's biggest atom smasher is claiming discovery of a new particle that he says is consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson known popularly as the "God particle." Rolf Heuer, director of the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, says "we have a discovery" of a new subatomic particle, a boson, that is "consistent with a Higgs boson." He spoke after two independent teams at CERN said they have both "observed" a new boson that looks just like the one believed to give all matter in the universe size and shape. (AP Photo/Keystone/Martial Trezzini)
Physicists celebrate evidence of ‘God particle’
Discovery » Physicists shed tears, rejoice, reflect on the decades of work.
First Published Jul 04 2012 01:36 pm • Last Updated Jul 04 2012 01:38 pm

Geneva • Scientists at the world’s biggest atom smasher hailed the discovery of "the missing cornerstone of physics" Wednesday, cheering the apparent end of a decades-long quest for a new subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, or "God particle," which could help explain why all matter has mass and crack open a new realm of physics.

First proposed as a theory in the 1960s, the maddeningly elusive Higgs had been hunted by at least two generations of physicists who believed it would help shape our understanding of how the universe began and how its most elemental pieces fit together.

Photos
Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

As the highly technical findings were announced by two independent teams involving more than 5,000 researchers, the usually sedate corridors of the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, erupted in frequent applause and standing ovations. Physicists shed tears reflecting on the decades of work that brought them to this momentous occasion.

The new particle appears to share many of the same qualities as the one predicted by Scottish physicist Peter Higgs and others and is perhaps the biggest accomplishment at CERN since its founding in 1954 outside Geneva along the Swiss-French border.

Rolf Heuer, director of CERN, said the newly discovered subatomic particle is a boson, but he stopped just shy of claiming outright that it is the Higgs boson itself — an extremely fine distinction.

"As a layman, I think we did it," he told the elated crowd. "We have a discovery. We have observed a new particle that is consistent with a Higgs boson."

The Higgs, which until now had been purely theoretical, is regarded as key to understanding why matter has mass, which combines with gravity to give an object weight.

The idea is much like gravity and Isaac Newton’s early theories: Gravity was there all the time before Newton explained it. The Higgs boson was believed to be there, too. And now that scientists have actually seen something much like it, they can put that knowledge to further use.

The center’s atom smasher, the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border, sends protons whizzing in a circle at nearly the speed of light to create high-energy collisions. The aftermath of those impacts can offer clues about dark matter, antimatter and the creation of the universe, which many theorize occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.

Most of the particles that result from the collisions exist for only the smallest fractions of a second. But finding a Higgs-like boson was one of the biggest challenges in physics: Out of some 500 trillion collisions, just several dozen produced "events" with significant data, said Joe Incandela, leader of the team known as CMS, with 2,100 scientists.


story continues below
story continues below

Each of the teams confirmed Wednesday that they had "observed" a new subatomic particle — a boson. Heuer said the discovery was "most probably a Higgs boson, but we have to find out what kind of Higgs boson it is."

As the leaders of the two teams presented their evidence, applause punctuated their talks.

"Thanks, nature!" joked Fabiola Gianotti, head of the team called ATLAS, with 3,000 scientists, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Later, she told reporters that the standard model of physics is still incomplete because "the dream is to find an ultimate theory that explains everything. We are far from that."

Incandela said it was too soon to say definitively whether the particle was exactly the same as envisioned by Higgs and others, who proposed the existence of an energy field where all particles interact with a key particle, the Higgs boson.

Higgs, who was invited to be in the audience, said Wednesday’s discovery appears to be close to what he predicted.

"It is an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime," he said, calling the discovery a huge achievement for the proton-smashing collider built in a 27-kilometer (17-mile) underground tunnel.

Outside CERN, the announcement seemed to ricochet around the world with some of the speed and energy of the particle itself.

Marc Sher, a professor of physics at William & Mary College, said most observers concluded in December that the Higgs boson would soon be found, but he was "still somewhat stunned by the results."

The phrase "God particle" was coined by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman, but it’s used by laymen, not physicists, as an easier way of explaining how the theory got started.

Incandela said the last undiscovered piece of the standard model could be a variant of the Higgs that was predicted or something else that entirely changes the way scientists think about how matter is formed.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.