Patt Morrison for July 6, 2012

Scientists finally find new subatomic particle Higgs boson

graphic showing traces of collision

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

A graphic showing traces of collision of particles at the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experience is pictured with a slow speed experience at Universe of Particles exhibition of the the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) on December 13, 2011 in Geneva. Scientists at the CERN believe they have identified the location of the Higgs boson, a elusive subatomic particle that is thought to be a basic building block of the universe.

A $10 billion budget that involved 6,000 researchers finally paid off. Scientists in Europe announced Wednesday that they have finally found the Higgs boson particle.

“It’s the missing piece,” said David Stuart, Professor of Physics of the Univesity of California, Santa Barbara. “We have observed and understood the others. This one was missing.”

Also known as “the God particle,” the Higgs boson is so fundamental to the universe that, without it, nothing could exist. For years, physicists have theorized that the particle is what gives other particles most of their mass. At the subatomic level, mass is a measure of energy, and the elusive Higgs boson is thought to be one of the heaviest particles in the known universe. Now, the finding may validate physicists’ speculations.

“The idea was so beautiful but so simple that it seemed too good to be true,” said Lawrence Krauss, Professor of Physics at Arizona State University. “What most people don’t realize is that most theoretical ideas are wrong. If they weren’t everyone could do theoretical physics. Nature usually surprises us in ways we never expected and this is one of the cases where it looks like we anticipated nature beautifully.”

The Higgs boson provides researchers with the final major puzzle piece of the Standard Model. The particle physics model describes the behavior and properties of every known particle.

The research effort took around 50 years.

“It’s about a deeper understanding of the universe and that’s what, for me, is so exciting,” Stuart said.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, operates the Higgs-hunting Large Hadron Collider. The search for the subatomic particle also involved a 17-mile circular tunnel deep under the border of France and Switzerland and thousands of torpedo-sized magnets.

Theorist Peter Higgs envisioned the particle in 1964. Now, at 83, he attends the discovery announcement in Geneva and tears up, “It’s really an incredible thing that it’s happened in my lifetime," he said.

Krauss says that these tests show us physicists are on the right track but the fundamental questions are yet to be answered.

“There are many theoretical arguments that lead us to suspect that there is a lot of other new physics at the scale of the LHC and that this is just the beginning,” Krauss concluded.  

Guests:


David Stuart, Professor of Physics at UCSB

Lawrence Krauss, Director of Origins Initiative, Professor Physics, Arizona State University


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