GENEVA, (Reuters) – International scientists said on Tuesday they had found signs of the Higgs boson, an elementary sub-atomic particle believed to have played a vital role in the creation of the universe after the Big Bang.
Peter Higgs, the 82-year-old British theoretical physicist who first proposed the existence of the particle in 1964 as the missing link of a grand theory of matter and energy, was watching the announcement on a webcast with colleagues at Edinburgh Univer-sity, where he is an emeritus professor.
“I won’t be going home to open a bottle of whisky to drown my sorrows, but on the other hand I won’t be going home to open a bottle of champagne either,” his colleague Alan Walker quoted him as saying after the announcement.
The leaders of two experiments, Atlas and CMS, revealed their findings to a packed seminar at the CERN physics research centre near Geneva, where they have tried to find traces of the elusive boson by smashing particles together at near light-speed in the Large Hadron Collider.
The experiments generated such excitement by independently reaching very similar conclusions. But the scientists were quick to warn that their results have not yet reached the level of certainty that would let them claim a discovery — hence Higgs’s caution.
Under what is known as the Standard Model of Physics, the boson is posited to have been the agent that gave mass and energy to matter after the creation of the universe 13.7 billion years ago – leading some to nickname it the “God particle”.
Its discovery would fill the last remaining hole in the model. However, that does not mean it must exist, and some eminent physicists such as Stephen Hawking believe it does not.
“If the Higgs observation is confirmed … this really will be one of the discoveries of the century,” said Themis Bowcock, professor of particle physics at Britain’s Liverpool University.
“Physicists will have uncovered a keystone in the makeup of the universe … whose influence we see and feel every day of our lives.”
BIG BANG CONDITIONS
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, a vast underground particle accelerator that costs 200,000 Swiss francs ($215,000) an hour to run, is designed to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang to allow particles such as the Higgs boson to be found and studied.