Scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, CERN, celebrated their latest acclaimed catch on Wednesday after announcing the discovery of a new subatomic particle by the world’s biggest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which constitutes “the missing cornerstone of physics.”
CERN’s physicists have used the multibillion-dollar particle accelerator to emit two beams of protons in opposite directions around the 27-km (17-mile) looped pipe built under the Swiss-French border before smashing into each other.
The collisions, which mimic the moments just after the Big Bang, throw off debris signals picked up by a vast complex of detectors and the data is examined by banks of computers.
The two separate CERN teams worked independently through that data, hunting for tiny divergences which might betray the existence of the new boson, a class of particle that includes the photon, associated with light. The class is named in honor of Albert Einstein’s Indian collaborator Satyendra Nath Bose.
Both teams found strong signals of the new particle at around 125 to 126 gigaelectron volts (GeV) – a unit of mass-energy. That makes it some 130-140 times heavier than a proton.
The new subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe which confers mass to matter, appears to be the boson imagined half a century ago by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs- hence called the Higgs boson.
Because of its significant role in the making of the material universe, the boson is sometimes called the “God particle” as its existence is fundamental to the creation of the universe, and its discovery involved thousands of scientists from all over the world.
“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” CERN director general Rolf Heuer told a gathering of scientists and the world’s media near Geneva on Wednesday.
“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.”
The Higgs is part of many theoretical equations underpinning scientists’ understanding of how the world came into being. If it does not 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 is 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 do not just come in pairs – – think matter and anti-matter – – but quadruplets, all with slightly different characteristics.
Scientists see the confirmation of Higgs theory about the ‘massive’ particle as accelerating investigations into the still unexplained “dark matter” they believe pervades the universe and into the possibility of a fourth or more dimensions, or of parallel universes. It may help in resolving contradictions between their model of how the world works at the subatomic level as shown by Quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of gravity.