Is New Sub-Atomic Particle the Key to the Universe?
July 4, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) believe they’ve found the mysterious ‘Higgs boson’ particle – the lynchpin of modern physics.
The results of the latest experiments from the Atlas and CMS teams in the Cern lab on the Franco-Swiss border were revealed during conferences in the UK and Geneva. Their findings point to the discovery of a new sub-atomic particle, consistent with the Higgs boson, a breakthrough which would be one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 21st century so far.
Cern director general Rolf Heuer said: “We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature. The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.”
But what is the ‘Higgs boson’?
The Higgs boson is a particle which has existed only in theory up to now and forms the cornerstone of the ‘Standard Model’ of physics.
The Standard Model is the most established and successful theory to explain how the universe works, but it always lacked explanation of how particles gain the mass which allows them to cluster together, to form matter as we know it.
In 1964, a theory was put forward by Edinburgh University Professor Peter Higgs and his team of physicists to plug the gap in the Standard Model theory.
Professor Higgs theorised that there is a field around the universe filled with bosons (a type of sub atomic particle). When other particles pass through the field and interact with these bosons, some of them gain mass, slow down, clump together and form matter.
And so the Higgs boson was born. Until now, its existence has remained theoretical only.
Following today’s announcements, Professor Higgs said: It’s really an incredible thing it’s happened in my lifetime.”
So have they really found it?
Teams of scientists have been conducting tests in Cern’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is the most powerful particle accelerator ever built. The LHC smashes together beams of particles called protons, at light speed, producing a vast shower of particles only created at high energy. They then study the remains of these collisions for new discoveries.
Although characteristically cautious, scientists are fairly certain the particle they have discovered is the Higgs boson. From the way it interacts it’s certainly a ‘boson’ and the mass at which the particle has been discovered indicates it is likely to be the Higgs.
What does this mean?
Without the Higgs boson, the Standard Model doesn’t work, which would force physicists back to square one in explaining the workings of the universe.
If it is the Higgs boson, this discovery will greatly increase our understanding of the basic forces at work in the world around us.
If this particle isn’t the Higgs, and is in fact something altogether more complex, this could open up a whole new realm of possibilities beyond our current understanding.
Scientists will continue to study the particle, but whatever the eventual findings, this discovery is a frontier moment for modern physics.
By Sarah Harper
[Image courtesy of Image Editor]