Physicists working with CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, are set to announce on Wednesday the latest results of the their search for the Higgs boson, according to the AP. The particle is predicted by the Standard Model of fundamental particle physics, and its discovery will be a major confirmation that physicists’ basic understanding of matter at its smallest levels is on the right track.
The Higgs boson, also often nicknamed the “God particle”, is the particle associated with the hypothetical “Higgs field” which is thought to permeate all of space. Physicists propose that the mass of elementary particles is a property which arises from the interaction of such particles with the Higgs field. The field was first proposed by physicist Peter Higgs in the 1960’s. Later, physicist Leon Lederman published a book titled, “The God Particle”, detailing the challenges of fundamental particle physics and the search for the Higgs, and which contributed to the particle’s popular media nickname, although according to a report from the National Post, physicists find the dramatic moniker irritating.
If it exists, the Higgs field is literally everywhere. The challenge for physicists is generating the high-energy conditions necessary to observe it. To do this, they use CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most powerful atom-smasher, which is located on the border of Switzerland and France. The collider is arranged as a 17-mile circumference tubular ring, buried underground.
Inside the ring, two streams of particles running in opposite directions are accelerated to nearly the speed of light. At the right moment, the opposite streams are allowed to collide head-on, and the resulting high energy collisions shatter the particles into their tiniest constituents. It is in examining just how and what these particles smash into that physicists are able to elucidate the nature of the smallest components of matter.
According to a statement from CERN, the institution will hold a seminar on Wednesday to discuss the latest information about the Higgs particle gathered at the LHC. Preliminary reports from the AP reveal that the scientists are expected to announce that they have gathered enough evidence to be confident that the Higgs exists, without having actually found direct evidence of the particle itself.
According to the report, the physicists say they have gathered tremendous amounts of data which hint at the Higgs existence, without having seen the particle itself. They hope to strike a balance between highlighting the importance of the discovery without overstating their case. John Ellis, a British researcher working at CERN, told the AP, “I agree that any reasonable outside observer would say, ‘It looks like a discovery.’ We’ve discovered something which is consistent with being a Higgs.”
Rob Roser, of Chicago’s Fermilab, explains the caution. “Particle physicists have a very high standard for what it takes to be a discovery,” and analogizes the current evidence for the Higgs to fossil evidence of dinosaurs, “You see the footprints and the shadow of the object, but you don’t actually see it.” In the press release from CERN, the institution’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers was optimistic, saying, “I’m very much looking forward to seeing what the data reveals.”