A particle consistent with the Higgs boson has been discovered and may help explain the origins of mass in the universe.
Physicists at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, known as CERN and located near Geneva, announced Wednesday morning they discovered a new particle. The particle was successfully created inside the Large Hadron Collider atom smasher.
The discovery is considered the most exciting in a century. It proves there is an invisible energy field within the vacuum of the universe. The particle is named after Peter Higgs, who said in 1964 that there is a new particle, the one scientists finally have found, that helped turn vacuum into matter.
CERN did not state if the particle is the Higgs boson that scientists have been searching for nearly 50 years but said that the properties are similar and that it is the missing particle often referred to as the “G-d” particle.
Researchers said it may take years before they can know if the particle is one of a family of particles.
“Is it a Higgs boson or not? Well, it has been found using techniques tuned for the Standard Model Higgs. A different object might have stepped in, but it is quite unlikely in my humble opinion,” said Tommaso Dorigo, a scientist on the CMS experimental team at CERN.
Weizmann Institute scientists at Rehovot have been prominent participants in this research from its onset. Prof. Giora Mikenberg was for many years head of the research group that searched for the Higgs boson in CERN’s OPAL experiment.
He was then leader of the ATLAS Muon Project – one of the two experiments that eventually revealed the particle. Prof. Ehud Duchovni heads the Weizmann Institute team that examines other key questions at CERN. Prof. Eilam Gross is currently the ATLAS Higgs physics group convener. In the Weizmann team, three scientific “generations” are represented: Mikenberg was Duchovni’s supervisor, who was, in turn, Gross’s supervisor.
“This is the biggest day of my life. I have been searching for the Higgs since I was a student in the 1980’s. Even after 25 years, it still came as a surprise,” said Gross. “ No matter what you call it – we are no longer searching for the Higgs but measuring its properties. Though I believed it would be found, I never dreamed it would happen while I was holding a senior position in the global research team.”
In the effort to discover the Higgs boson, unify the fundamental forces and understand the origin of mass in the universe, scientists built the world’s largest machine: a particle accelerator nestled in a 27-km-long circular tunnel, 100 meters beneath the border between France and Switzerland, in the European particle physics laboratory, CERN.
The Large Hadron Collider accelerates beams of protons up to 99.999998% the speed of light. According to the theory of relativity, this increases their mass by 7,500 times that of their normal resting mass. The accelerator aims the beams straight at each other, causing collisions that release so much energy, the protons themselves explode. For much less than the blink of an eye, conditions similar to those that existed in the universe in the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang are present in the accelerator.
As a result, particles of matter are turned into energy, in accordance with Albert Einstein’s famous equation describing the conversion of matter into energy: E=mc2. The energy then propagates through space and the system cools.
Consequently, energy turns back into particles of matter and the process is repeated until particles that can exist in reality as we know it are formed, Weizmann scientists explained.
The likelihood of creating the Higgs boson in a single collision is similar to that of randomly extracting a specific living cell from the leaf of a plant, out of all the plants growing on Earth. To cope with this task, Weizmann Institute scientists, headed by Prof. Mikenberg, developed unique particle detectors, which were manufactured at the Institute and in Japan and China. These detectors have been adapted to detect muon particles. In some of the very rare collisions that produce Higgs particles, the footprint of the Higgs particle – that which is recorded in the detectors – is four energetic muons. Thus, the detection of such muons provides circumstantial evidence for the existence of the Higgs particle.