May 18, 2011
‘God Particle’ Mystery Could Be Solved Next Year
Physicists may finally be close to answering one of the biggest mysteries in science "“ whether or not a "God particle", or Higgs boson, exists.
In theory, the Higgs boson is responsible for mass, without which there would be no gravity and no universe. The notional sub-atomic Higgs particle was named after British physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed its existence in 1964.
Until now, the massive energies required to extract the Higgs from the building blocks of matter have not been available. However, physicists said Tuesday they now believe that by the end of next year they will be able to determine whether or not the theoretical particle exists.
"I'm pretty confident that towards the end of 2012 we will have an answer to the Shakespeare question for the Higgs boson -- to be, or not to be?" said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), during a press conference on Tuesday at Britain's Royal Society.
CERN has ordered the world's largest particle collider to expedite the quest to explain mass, one of science's greatest riddles.
The Higgs is believed to hold the key. Should scientists confirm its existence, one of the last remaining pieces of the renowned Standard Model, which brings all the particles and forces in the universe under a single, unified theory, would be set in place.
"By the end of 2012 we will either discover the Standard Model Higgs Boson, if it exists, or we will rule it out," said Fabiola Gianotti, spokesman for Atlas, CERN's largest particle-collider lab.
CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is located in a 16.9-mile ring-shaped tunnel 325 feet underground along the French-Swiss border.
It was designed to accelerate protons to nearly the speed of light, and then smash them together in large laboratories where detectors record the sub-atomic debris.
The particles briefly reach temperatures 100,000 times hotter than the Sun, fleetingly replicating the conditions that prevailed fractions of a second after the "Big Bang" that created the Universe nearly 14 billion years ago.
Scientists believe this primordial mixture may contain novel particles that could resolve the long-standing questions clouding our understanding of fundamental matter.
Mysteries include the Higgs -- nicknamed "the God particle" for being enigmatic yet ubiquitous -- as well as suspected "supersymmetrical" particles that could explain dark matter, which comprises some 23 percent of the universe.
The LHC's first proton collisions took place in 2008, after which the smasher had to be shut down for 14-months to repair technical problems.
The LHC recently ratcheted up the largest-ever energy release from particle collisions, although this is still only half its capacity. It was scheduled to be shut down in early 2012 for work enabling it to be used at full power, but a decision was made several weeks ago to delay the shutdown for a year to help search for the Higgs, Gianotti said.
The theory behind the Higgs is that mass does not originate from particles themselves, but rather comes from collisions between particles and a non-matter particle, or boson, called the Higgs.
These collisions slow down some particles and give them mass, while other particles experience few collisions or none at all.
There is currently fierce competition between scientists in the U.S. and Europe for Higgs glory, following the shutdown of the legendary Tevatron collider at Fermilab in Chicago.
Finding the boson would almost certainly be a Nobel-winning accomplishment, for both the discoverers and Higgs himself. Proving that the particle does not exist would also be considered a success, although it would be a discouraging development for the Standard Model, Heuer said.
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