June 13, 2012

Getting Close To God (Particle)

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com

Researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) are closing in on the so-called ℠God Particle´ that is the last major missing piece to the theoretical Standard Model of how the universe works at its most basic level.

The God Particle, more properly know as the Higgs boson, is a hypothetical particle that exists throughout the known universe and when fit into the Standard Model, explains why fundamental particles like quarks and electrons have mass. Some scientists have theorized that the Higgs boson has mass; while others believe it is mass-less.

"They are getting quite fired up," one scientist outside CERN, but familiar with the researchers told Reuters.

CERN itself did not drop any hints that it was close to formally announcing it had discovered the particle and its linked energy field as separate research teams work under blinded conditions. Blinding a term used to describe different groups working on identical experiments but with different if similar equipment. The objective of blinding is for the different groups to independently validate each other's results, clearing the way to actually claiming a discovery.

CERN spokesman James Gillies said the center would want to make any important announcement, once there was something to say.

"As for what ATLAS and CMS may or may not have in the 2012 data, that's only known to a few people in each experiment right now," he added.

Scientists familiar with the projects say developments in December 2011 caused some excitement after both teams noticed some "tantalizing glimpses" of the Higgs but needed more time to be sure if it was really there. This marked progress occurred after some 16 months of collisions at lower energy levels.

The particle, which is so short-lived that it can only be detected by the evidence it leaves, is named after UK scientist Peter Higgs who in 1964 first came up with its detailed concept. The quest for the elusive but scientifically crucial Higgs boson is being conducted by using CERN´s large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is located on the edge of Geneva. The machine attempts to replicate the Big Bang, the process scientists believe brought the known universe into being.

The formal discovery of the Higgs boson, once it is endorsed by the world scientific community, would almost certainly ensure a Nobel Prize for Higgs. At least one other European physicist and one American would likely be up for the prize as well upon its confirmed discovery.

The Higgs boson is often referred to as "the God particle" by the media after the popular book on particle physics by Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?

Lederman said he gave the Higgs boson the nickname "The God Particle" because it is "so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive."

He jokingly added that “the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing."