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'God particle' does exist: scientists


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When Peter Higgs proposed that an invisible field strewn across space gave mass to atoms, the building blocks of the universe, the theory was ridiculed by some of the most respected minds of the time.

His first paper was rejected by a journal, while other scientists accused him and his colleagues of failing to grasp the basic principles of physics.

Despite the slights, Higgs - at the time a 34-year-old physicist at Edinburgh University - was convinced his idea was right, although he never envisaged being able to prove it.

Wednesday, 48 years on, his radical concept was proved correct by a team of physicists at the CERN laboratory using a $10-billion super-sized particle accelerator designed to uncover the secrets of the universe.

Announcing the latest results from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, scientists confirmed they had discovered a new particle bearing the hallmarks of a Higgs boson.

"This is a preliminary result, but we think it's very strong and very solid," said Joe Incan-dela, spokesman for one of the two teams hunting for the Higgs particle.

The Higgs boson helps to explain how fundamental particles gain their mass, a property that allows them to bind together and form stars and planets rather than whiz-zing around the universe at the speed of light. It is the last undiscovered piece of the Standard Model that describes the fundamental makeup of the universe.

The model is for physicists what the theory of evolution is for biologists.

Higgs, 83, who travelled to Switzerland for the announcement, was visibly moved as the presentation was rounded off to tumultuous applause from the excited audience, some of whom had waited overnight to secure their seats.

"I am astounded at the amazing speed with which these results have emerged," he said. "They are a testament to the expertise of the researchers and the elaborate technologies in place. I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge."

Higgs has repeatedly resisted requests for interviews and comments, insisting that the limelight should be taken by the scientists who have proved his theory is correct.

He has long been uncomfortable even having his name attached to the particle, which is seen as the missing corner-stone of the Standard Model of physics. He became a researcher at Edinburgh University in the early 1950s.

His "eureka" moment reportedly came in a flash of inspiration during a walking trip to the Cairngorms. When one of his initial papers was rejected, he insisted the journal had not understood him.

Upon publication in 1964, he and his colleagues were ridiculed as young pretenders and urged to abandon their research or risk "professional suicide."

Gerry Guralnik, a U.S. researcher who published a paper on the subject with colleagues within months of Higgs, recalled a galling encounter with Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist who gave his name to the famous "uncertainty principle" of quantum mechanics.

"A lot of famous people told us that we were wrong. Heisenberg told me I did not under-stand the rules of physics, which is pretty scary if you are 26 and are worried about get-ting a job."

Wednesday, the scientific community was united in its praise for Higgs. Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said Higgs deserved a Nobel Prize for his work.


What is it?

The Higgs boson is a theorized sub-atomic particle that is believed to confer mass. It is conceived as existing in a treacly, invisible field that stretches across the universe. Higgs bosons "stick" to fundamental particles of matter, dragging on them.

Some of these particles interact more with the Higgs than others and thus have greater mass. Particles of light, also called pho-tons, are impervious to it and have no mass.

Why is it important?

The origin of mass (meaning the resistance of an object to being moved) has been fiercely debated for decades. Finding the Higgs boson vindicates the so-called Standard Model of physics, a theory that developed in the early 1970s, that says the universe is made from 12 sub-atomic particles that provide the building blocks for all matter. These fundamental particles are divided into a bestiary comprising six leptons and six quarks, which have exotic names such as "strange," "up", "tau" and "charm." Before Wednesday's announcement, the existence of 11 of the particles had been shown in scientific experiments, but not the Higgs boson.

How has the Higgs been hunted?

The quest to prove Higgs has been carried out at particle colliders: giant machines that smash protons together and sift through the sub-atomic debris that tumbles out. The big daddy of these is the Large Hadron Collider, operated by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in a ring-shaped tunnel deep underground near Geneva. Smash-ups generated at the LHC briefly generate temperatures 100,000 times hotter than the sun, replicating the conditions that occurred just after the Universe's creation in the "Big Bang" nearly 14 billion years ago. These concentrations of energy, while violent, occur only at a tiny scale.

Evidence to support the existence of the Higgs is indirect. In the same way that we cannot see the wind, we infer its existence and strength from leaves or flags or other objects that it moves.

Why 'the God particle?'

The Higgs boson was dubbed the "God particle," from the title of a book by physicist Leon Lederman whose draft title was The Goddamn Particle, to describe the frustrations of trying to find the Higgs. The title was cut to The God Particle by his publisher, apparently fearful that Goddamn could be offensive.

The Canadian role

About 150 Canadian scientists are part of an international net-work whose research helped to discover the Higgs boson. Scientists at nine Canadian universities and the University of B.C.-based TRIUMF physics lab joined the elusive search for the particle starting two decades ago. The Canadians helped to build the CERN particle detector, which then processed mil-lions of gigabytes of data and eventually led to the finding. TRIUMF particle physicist Isabel Trigger, who helped lead the lab's team, calls the finding a huge Canadian success story. The Canadian research cost about $100 million over two decades, which Trigger said puts the country at the leading edge of scientific progress.

Read more: http://www.vancouver...l#ixzz1zkoUmfLR

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