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Physicists May Have Detected Elusive Higgs Boson Particle

  • Lisa Schlein

View of the LHC (large hadron collider) in its tunnel at CERN (European particle physics laboratory) near Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, May 31, 2007.

Scientists at a research laboratory outside Geneva, Switzerland say they have seen tantalizing hints of the existence of the Higgs boson subatomic particle, which they say might help explain the fundamental structure of the universe. But researchers who on Tuesday presented results of two experiments conducted at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, say the evidence is not strong enough to claim a discovery.

The elusive Higgs boson is often referred to as the “God Particle” because it might hold the key to understanding why objects in the universe have mass.

Physicist Pauline Gagnon says that even though the particle's nickname is a joke, the prospect of finding the Higgs boson particle is an exciting and serious matter.

“People have been looking for this particle for a long time and it has been called elusive, like you said, because it has been decades - essentially 30, 40 years - that people have been trying to find it," said Gagnon.

The data presented at CERN come from two experiments conducted at the Large Hadron Collider - the world’s largest atom smasher, which sends beams of protons hurtling toward one another at nearly the speed of light. Scientists say the force of billions of powerful collisions at the collider is producing results never before seen.

Fabiola Gianotti is spokesperson for one of the two experiments conducted at CERN and says the data show spikes in what scientists call the mass region. She calls this an important achievement.

“In this mass region, we see some excess of events and it is too early to tell if the excess is due to fluctuation of the background or if it is due to something more interesting," said Gianotti. "I think that only more studies and more data will allow us to answer that question. But the nice thing is we know that by the end of 2012, or sooner, if we are lucky, we should be able to say the final word.”

Scientists have developed what they call the Standard Model, which explains how particles and forces interact. It describes the ordinary matter from which everything visible in the universe is made. The Higgs boson particle is the only piece of the universe predicted by the Standard Model that has not been seen.

The particle lies at the heart of the fundamental question of why there is mass in the universe. Finding the Higgs boson would be one of the biggest scientific advances in more than half-a-century. It would confirm the Standard Model’s description of how subatomic particles interact to form the basic building blocks of the universe.