For the first time ever, a scientist has detected a simulated version of the so-called “God particle” using superconducting materials, providing evidence that the Higgs boson can be detected without the use of an energy accelerator environment, according to a new study published by the journal Nature Physics.
In the study, Bar-Ilan University professor Aviad Frydman and his colleagues report the first-ever observations of the Higgs mode in superconducting materials, which are a special class of metals that allow electrons to move without resistance when cooled to very low temperatures.
It was these materials that provided the first hint of the Higgs boson’s existence more than 50 years ago, leading to its ultimate discovery at CERN’s underground Large Hadron Collider back in 2012. The particle is believed to be responsible for all of the mass in the universe.
Spared a lot of expense
Unlike CERN’s research, which required the use of an advanced particle accelerator that cost approximately $4.75 billion to build, the results of the new experiments were obtained through relatively low-cost methods that took place in a regular laboratory. The findings could also help scientists better understand how the particle behaved in different conditions.
“Just as the CERN experiments revealed the existence of the Higgs boson in a high-energy accelerator environment, we have now revealed a Higgs boson analogue in superconductors,” Frydman, who specializes in mesoscopic physics, said in a statement.
“Ironically, while the discussion about this ‘missing link’ in the Standard Model was inspired by superconductor theory, the Higgs mode was never actually observed in superconductors because of technical difficulties – difficulties that we’ve managed to overcome,” he added.
Frydman, a member of the University’s Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA), co-led the research along with Stuttgart University professor Martin Dressel. The duo was joined on the project by researchers from the US, Israel, India, Russia and Denmark.
Niobium nitrite, indium oxide save the day
According to the Daily Mail, during previous attempts to complete this feat, the superconducting material would decay into something known as particle-hole pairs. The amount of energy needed to excite the Higgs mode would break apart the electron pairs that act as the material’s charge.
The researchers overcame this issue by using ultra-thin superconducting films of niobium nitrite and indium oxide as what is called the “superconductor-insulator critical point,” the British news outlet added. A recent theory had predicted that, in this state, the decay of the Higgs would no longer take place, meaning that the scientists could excite Higgs mode at relatively low energies.
“Exciting the Higgs mode in a particle accelerator requires enormous energy levels – measured in giga-electronvolts,” said Frydman. “The parallel phenomenon in superconductors occurs on a different energy scale entirely – just one-thousandth of a single electronvolt. What’s exciting is to see how, even in these highly disparate systems, the same fundamental physics is at work.”
In addition, the study authors said that the robust nature of the newly-observed Higgs mode in superconductors could make it easier to study the so-called “God particle,” which is believed to be the “missing link” in the Standard Theory of particle physics. This new approach could soon make it possible for the mysteries of fundamental physics to be solved through regular laboratory research, but expensive studies that require a billion-dollar particle accelerator, they added.