Fabled particle Higgs boson may exist

A graphic of the collision of particles

The Higgs boson is the missing link in the Standard Model of Physics

Written by Elaine Zuo

Known as the “God particle“, the Higgs boson is a subatomic particle that is theorized to be the reason why everything in the universe has mass. Researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva have recently found significant hints of the particle, the last missing part of the Standard Model of Physics. 

Finding the Higgs itself would be revolutionary in the science world and allow for a greater understanding of how the universe works. This search is currently the top priority of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and two separate experiments have been established in pursuit of the particle. There has not been an exact mass predicted for the Higgs, and so physicists must use particle accelerators such as the LHC to look for it. The LHC, a 27 kilometer ring-shaped tunnel 100 meters below the French-Swiss border, is the world’s largest atom smasher.

CERN reported on December 13 that the midpoint results from the two independent experiments had reached roughly the same conclusion for the mass of the particle: a range of 116 to 130 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), with significant activity around 124-125 GeV. One GeV has about the same mass as a proton.

The results currently have a 99 percent degree of certainty, but this is not close to the threshold that must be reached for there to be a true “discovery”. An accepted “discovery” must carry a five-sigma level of certainty, which would represent the likelihood of tossing a coin and getting more than 20 heads in a row. Each sigma represents a standard deviation, which is a measure of how unlikely that the experimental result was attributed to chance rather than actual cause.

If the Higgs does exist, it is short-lived and is decaying quickly into more stable particles. These decay patterns give more flexibility to scientists to search for the boson through different decay routes. Each path has its advantages and disadvantages, with more background noise clouding some results and others with less noise but less statistical certainty.

The range in which the Higgs exists gets smaller and smaller each year, and physicists hope that they will actually discover the particle sometime next year. Much excitement has abounded in the scientific community and many hope that the Higgs will only be the first in a chain of discovery. The Standard Model, the guide to how particles and forces interact, would be complete upon verification of the boson, and science would be one step further into understanding the entirety of the universe.

Searching for the God Particle

Written by: Joe Sciabica

On December 13 at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, two research teams found evidence that indicates that the Higgs Boson particle does exist. The Higgs Boson, also known as the God particle, is one of the last parts of the puzzle that is the Standard Model of physics. Currently, there is a theoretical equation of physics that explains most of the forces in the universe which is illustrated by various subatomic particles more elementary than protons and neutrons. Discovering the existence of the Higgs Boson would complete the theory and prove to be a correct model of reality.

However, as its name suggest, the God particle has yet to be conclusively discovered. The Higgs Boson cannot be directly seen, but its path can be observed to tell if it is the Higgs Boson acting. The two research teams, independent of each other’s results, both found similar evidence that leads them closer to looking where the Higgs Boson can be found. However, the physicists admit that some skepticism is healthy as the results could have just been statistical fluctuations.

Experiments will resume in March of 2012 and most scientists are sure that a conclusive answers will be found, whether the particle exists or not. If the Higgs Boson is stated to not exist, then the Standard Model will have to be redone.

Although a useful name to market the particle, the use of “God” to describe the particle is misleading, according to the scientific community. The term was first coined in a book title to describe the elusive nature of the particle and the surrounding belief of the particle but lack of direct evidence. The existence of the particle would also explain why the other elementary particles have mass, in essence giving them existence and being God-like.

Lastly, the Higgs Boson is more accurately thought of as a medium through which other matter exists, again as if existence depends on it. Scientists believe that the term God overestimates the importance of this particle, since it is just a part of the overall theory that would describe reality, supporting other ideas such as the Big Bang Theory and Super String Theory.

As with all other scientific theories, the God particle’s existence cannot answer theological or supernatural questions and therefore having little to do with an actual deity. It is hard to see any practical implications from these experiments that would serve the general public. In the meantime, confirmation of the Higgs Boson would be celebrated by scientists, philosophers and enthusiasts as a triumph of theoretical physics and lay the groundwork for continued research and new questions which have not even yet been asked.