Scientists working at the world's biggest atom smasher near Geneva have
announced the discovery of a new subatomic particle that looks
remarkably like the long-sought Higgs boson. Sometimes called the "God
particle" because its existence is fundamental to the creation of the
universe, the hunt for the Higgs involved thousands of scientists from
all over the world.
What is the God Particle anyway?
physics teaches that everything is made up of atoms, and inside atoms
are electrons, protons and neutrons. They, in turn, are made of quarks
and other subatomic particles. Scientists have long puzzled over how
these minute building blocks of the universe acquire mass. Without mass,
particles wouldn't hold together and there would be no matter.
theory proposed by British physicist Peter Higgs and teams in Belgium
and the United States in the 1960s is that a new particle must be
creating a "sticky" field that acts as a drag on other particles. The
atom-smashing experiments at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear
Research, have now captured a glimpse of what appears to be just such a
Why is this important?
The Higgs is
part of many theoretical equations underpinning scientists'
understanding of how the world came into being. If it doesn't exist,
then those theories would need to be fundamentally overhauled. The fact
that it apparently does exist means scientists have been on the right
track with their theories. But there's a twist: the measurements seem to
diverge slightly from what would be expected under the so-called
Standard Model of particle physics. This is exciting for scientists
because it opens the possibility to potential new discoveries including a
theory known as "super-symmetry" where particles don't just come in
pairs - think matter and anti-matter - but quadruplets, all with
slightly different characteristics.
How much did it cost?
atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, alone cost some $10 billion to
build and run. This includes the salaries of thousands of scientists
and support staff around the world who collaborated on the two
experiments that independently pursued the Higgs.
Were there any practical results from the search?
directly. But the massive scientific effort that led up to the
discovery has paid off in other ways, one of which was the creation of
the World Wide Web. CERN scientists developed it to make it easier to
exchange information among each other. The vast computing power needed
to crunch all of the data produced by the atom smasher has also boosted
the development of distributed - or cloud - computing, which is now
making its way into mainstream services. Advances in solar energy
capture, medical imaging and proton therapy - used in the fight against
cancer - have also resulted from the work of particle physicists at CERN
"This is just the beginning,"
says James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN. Scientists will keep probing
the new particle until they fully understand how it works. In doing so
they hope to understand the 96 percent of the universe that remains
hidden from view. This may result in the discovery of new particles and
even hitherto unknown forces of nature.
Also see: Top 8 facts about CERN Large Hadron Collider