December 13, 2011
Physicists Abuzz Over Potential Discovery of the ‘God Particle’
The global science community is all abuzz this week as physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland announced that they may have caught a glimpse of the so-called ℠God Particle´, the subatomic particle that may explain the existence of the material universe as we know it.
Experts believe that the Higgs boson particle – named for the British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs who first hypothesized its existence in the 1960s – may be the agent that endows everything in the physical universe with mass.Researchers at the LHC have not yet, however, made a definitive claim as to whether they have found the much sought-after particle, nor are they likely to do so anytime soon. After a series of tests that have purportedly produced some very interesting results, physicists from the research center are expected to announce today whether or not their evidence supports the existence of the Higgs boson.
Scientists say that the God Particle has been a sort of missing-link in the so-called ℠Standard Model´ which represents physics´ attempt to construct a comprehensive blueprint for how particles and forces interact in the universe. Ever since Einstein´s revolutionary discovery that mass is also a form of energy (E=mc²), physicists have been at a loss as to what exactly mass is and how it comes into being.
Researchers at the LHC have conducted two separate experiments in search of the Higgs boson known as Atlas and CMS. Yet despite revolutionary developments in research technology, such as the particle accelerator, looking for the mysterious subatomic particle has been a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack. Because the Standard Model has not yet been able to make predictions regarding the exact weight of the Higgs boson, researchers have had to hunt through a broad spectrum of possibilities.
At a seminar on Tuesday, however, the directors of Atlas and CMS explained that both of the projects had observed “spikes” in their data sets at approximately the same mass: 124-125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV).
“The excess may be due to a fluctuation,” explained Fabiola Gianotti of the Atlas project. “But it could also be something more interesting. We cannot exclude anything at this stage.”
His counterpart from the CMS experiment Guido Tonelli went on to explain that: “The excess is most compatible with a Standard Model Higgs in the vicinity of 124 GeV and below, but the statistical significance is not large enough to say anything conclusive. As of today, what we see is consistent either with a background fluctuation or with the presence of the boson.”
Although the correspondence between the two experiments is certainly promising, it currently provides only enough data to support a ℠two sigma´ level of certainty. In order to officially claim a new discovery, current scientific standards require a ℠five sigma´ level of certainty, which means that there is a chance of less than one in a million that the data spikes can be attributed to a statistical fluke.
Yet while researchers remain cautiously optimistic, the excitement in the scientific blogosphere is palpable.
Confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson would be one of the most significant, game-changing discoveries in the world of physics in the last century.
According to the Higgs theory, mass comes into existence when subatomic particles like protons interact with the so-called ℠Higgs field´, a sort of omni-present force field that exists everywhere in the universe. In this model, the God particle act as a sort of liaison between known subatomic particles and the invisible field.
According to Professor Stefan Soldner-Rembold of the University of Manchester: “Within one year we will probably know whether the Higgs particle exists, but it is likely not going to be a Christmas present.”
Image Caption: An event showing four muons (red tracks) from a proton-proton collision in ATLAS. This event is consistent with two Z particles decaying into two muons each. Such events are produced by Standard Model processes without Higgs particles. They are also a possible signature for Higgs particle production, but many events must be analyzed together in order to tell if there is a Higgs signal. Credit: CERN
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