April 8, 2008

Scientist Says the ‘God Particle’ Will Soon Be Found

British physicist Peter Higgs said Monday he believes the discovery of a subatomic particle, whose existence he postulated about 40 years ago, would take place within the next year as a result of a race between powerful research equipment in the U.S. and Europe.  

The particle, named "Higgs boson", would prove the existence of a force that gives mass to the universe and makes life possible, he said.

Higgs believes a particle, which originates from the force, will be discovered after a vast $2 billion particle collider at the CERN research center goes into full operation early next year. The massive CERN collider, under construction since 2003, was installed in a 17-mile circular tunnel under the Franco-Swiss border.

"The likelihood is that the particle will show up pretty quickly ... I'm more than 90 percent certain that it will," Higgs told journalists, adding that his visit to the new accelerator over the weekend encouraged him that Higgs boson will soon be seen. It was the first time in 13 years Higgs had visited CERN.

Higgs' original work during the early 1960s to explain why the force, named the Higgs field, must exist was initially dismissed at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. However, today the invisible field's existence is widely accepted by scientists, who believe it began only milliseconds after the Big Bang created the universe 15 billion years ago.

Finding the Higgs boson would prove this theory correct.

CERN's new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) would simulate conditions at the time of the Big Bang by smashing particles together at near light-speed, theoretically unlocking many of the mysteries of the universe. CERN Scientists hope the process will produce clear signs of Higgs boson, called the "God particle" by some, to the dismay of Higgs, an atheist.

Higgs developed his theory as an explanation for the disappearance of mass as matter is broken down to its smallest constituent parts -- molecules, atoms and quarks.  He postulated that matter was weightless at the exact moment of the Big Bang and then much of it promptly gained mass, arguing this must be due to a field that stuck to particles, making them heavy after they passed through it.   Had this not happened, matter would have floated freely in space, with planets and stars never having formed.

Higgs said he hoped the elusive boson would be identified before his 80th birthday next year. Earlier but less powerful colliders at CERN and the U.S. Fermilab had failed to detect the particle.

"If it doesn't, I shall be very, very puzzled,"  said the normally media-shy physicist, who has spent most of his career at Scotland's Edinburgh University.

But despite some spectacular descriptions of what the particle might look like, there may be no immediate visible proof of the boson's appearance on the highly advanced computers used by CERN scientists to track the billions of collisions taking place in the LHC.

"It all happens so fast that the appearance of the boson may be hidden in the data collected, and it could take a long time for the analysis to find it," he said.

"I may have to keep the champagne on ice for a while yet."


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