Evidence of elusive ‘God particle’ found

Scientists working at the world’s biggest atom smasher plan to announce tomorrow that they have gathered enough evidence to show that the long-sought ‘God particle’ answering fundamental questions about the universe almost certainly does exist.

However, despite decades of work and billions of dollars, researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or Cern, are not quite ready to say they have “discovered” the particle.

Experts familiar with the research at Cern’s complex on the Swiss-French border say the massive amounts of data they have obtained will essentially show the footprint of the key particle known as the Higgs boson — all but proving it exists — but does not allow them to say it has actually been glimpsed.

It appears to be a fine distinction.

Senior Cern scientists say the two independent teams of physicists who plan to present their work at Cern’s complex tomorrow are about as close as you can get to a discovery without calling it one.

“I agree that any reasonable outside observer would say, ‘It looks like a discovery’,” said British theoretical physicist John Ellis, a professor at King’s College London who has worked at Cern since the 1970s.

“We’ve discovered something which is consistent with being a Higgs.”

Cern’s atom smasher, the $10bn (€8bn) Large Hadron Collider, has been creating high-energy collisions of protons to help them understand suspected phenomena such as dark matter, antimatter, and ultimately the creation of the universe billions of years ago, which many theorise occurred as a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.

For particle physicists, finding the Higgs boson is a key to confirming the standard model of physics that explains what gives mass to matter and, by extension, how the universe was formed. Each of the two teams known as Atlas and CMS involve thousands of people working independently from one another, to ensure accuracy.

Rob Roser, who leads the search for the Higgs boson at the Fermilab in Chicago, said: “Particle physicists have a very high standard for what it takes to be a discovery.” He thinks it is a hair’s breadth away.

He compared the results that scientists are preparing to announce to finding the fossilised imprint of a dinosaur: “You see the footprints and the shadow of the object, but you don’t actually see it.”

Though an impenetrable concept to many, the Higgs boson has until now been just that — a concept intended to explain a riddle: How were the subatomic particles, such as electrons, protons and neutrons, formed? What gives them their mass?

The answer came in a theory first proposed by physicist Peter Higgs and others in the 1960s. It envisioned an energy field where particles interact with a key particle, the Higgs boson.

The idea is that other particles attract Higgs bosons and the more they attract, the bigger their mass will be. Some liken the effect to a snowfield that affects other particles travelling through it depending on whether they are wearing, metaphorically speaking, skis, snowshoes or just shoes.

Officially, Cern is presenting its evidence at a physics conference in Australia this week, but plans to accompany the announcement with meetings in Geneva.

The two teams, Atlas and CMS, then plan to publicly unveil more data on the Higgs boson at physics meetings in October and December.

Scientists with access to the new Cern data say it shows with a high degree of certainty that the Higgs boson may already have been glimpsed, and that by unofficially combining the separate results from Atlas and CMS it can be argued that a discovery is near at hand.

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