July 5 (Bloomberg) — Scientists seeking to explain the origins of matter discovered a particle that may support a decades-old theory of physics, bringing people closer to understanding unseen parts of the universe.
The observed particle is the heaviest boson ever found, said Joe Incandela, spokesman for one of the experiments at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, at a seminar yesterday at its Geneva headquarters. Scientists stopped short of claiming they have found the elusive Higgs boson, a theoretical particle that could explain where mass comes from.
“As a layman, I think I would say ‘we have it,’” said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director of CERN, at a press conference in Geneva. It will take at least three to four years of research to fully understand the properties of the observed particle, Heuer said.
The announcement brings humankind closer to answering a millennia-old question that the ancient Greeks wrestled with: what is matter made of? The particle is a key to the Standard Model, a theory explaining how the universe is built, and its existence would help scientists gain a better understanding of how galaxies hold together. It also could open a door to exploring other parts of physics such as superparticles or dark matter that telescopes can’t detect.
‘Sings and Dances’
The new boson “sings and dances like” the theoretical particle, said Pauline Gagnon, a researcher on the Atlas set of experiments in Geneva, in an interview in Melbourne, where she was attending the bi-annual International Conference on High Energy Physics. “There is no doubt it comes from a different signal, different channels, with different experiments. We just need in the next few months with more data to ascertain exactly what are the properties of this particle to see if it is exactly the Standard Model Higgs boson or some variation of it.””
Particle physics is the study of the elemental building blocks that make up matter. These particles, with names such as quark, fermion, lepton and boson, can’t be subdivided. They exist and interact within several unseen ‘‘fields’’ that permeate the universe.
The field that generates mass for objects is named for U.K. physicist Peter Higgs, who in the 1960s was one of the first scientists to outline a working theory on how elemental particles achieve mass. Higgs was one of four of the theorists attending yesterday’s meeting in Geneva. He wiped a tear from his eye as the findings were presented.
Champagne for Higgs
‘‘For me, it’s really an incredible thing that it’s happened in my lifetime,” Higgs said in Geneva. In a statement, he said he would be “asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge.”
Higgs wrote that some particles — such as photons, the basic unit of light — don’t interact with the Higgs field, and thus don’t achieve mass. Most others do.
To put it another way, if the Higgs field were a Hollywood party, a photon would be the unknown actor who hurries through without gaining a bit of interest from others in the room. Other particles would be more like Angelina Jolie, drawing crowds of hangers-on as they move through the party.