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.