News / Science & Technology

Higgs Boson Finding Excites Fermilab Scientists

Kane Farabaugh
BATAVIA, Illinois—Scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced Wednesday the discovery of a subatomic particle that fits the description of the Higgs boson, also known as the "God Particle."  Scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory say the development is historic.

Some 200 scientists and other staffers gathered at Fermilab -- at two o'clock in the morning - to watch the announcement from Geneva.  Many of them have strong connections to the CERN experiment - using the atom-smashing Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to locate the Higgs boson, including the head of the CMS group, Patricia McBride.

"A lot of the techniques that are being used there were first tried out here.  A lot of people did their training here," said McBride.

Scientists have spent hundreds of millions of dollars creating technologically advanced devices that can smash atoms together, and tens of thousands of hours of manpower pouring over the resulting data.  But they now believe they have found what looks like the subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson.

Fermilab Staff Scientist Robert Roser says the Higgs boson is a particle that attracts other particles, and explains how matter has mass.  This gives clues to how planets, and ultimately life, is formed.  But he points out his colleagues at CERN were careful to say they found a "Higgs-like" object, but not the Higgs boson itself.

"It's a subtle difference and so what they will do over the course of the many years, they will start to investigate all of its properties to see if it acts, if it smells, tastes, and behaves the way they expect it to," noted Roser.

Fermilab was home to the LHC's predecessor, the Tevatron Accelerator, which went offline late last year.  Roser says the final data produced by the Tevatron is consistent with CERN's findings.  He says it all adds up to dramatic changes for scientists.

"The finding of this will change the way science views the world immediately, and will change the way I go to work tomorrow.  The way it affects the general public, not so much," Roser added.

While it's not clear yet where the finding will ultimately lead, McBride and Roser say the technology developed to find the Higgs boson has already helped produced technology that we take for granted today.   

"So it's not fair necessarily to ask me today what the practical benefits of the Higgs boson is… I think we'll know in the course of time what that is.  But that said, mankind has always asked the question "why" and we are one step closer to understanding that," Roser said.

The next step, says Roser, is confirming without a scientific doubt that what they now believe is the Higgs Boson, actually is.

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