Review: A closer look at the Higgs boson


Scientists working at the world's biggest atom smasher near Geneva have announced the discovery of a new subatomic particle that looks remarkably like the long-sought Higgs boson. Sometimes called the "God particle" because its existence is fundamental to the creation of the universe, the hunt for the Higgs involved thousands of scientists from all over the world.

School physics teaches that everything is made up of atoms, and inside atoms are electrons, protons and neutrons. They, in turn, are made of quarks and other subatomic particles. Scientists have long puzzled over how these minute building blocks of the universe acquire mass.

Without mass, particles wouldn't hold together and there would be no matter. One theory proposed by British physicist Peter Higgs and teams in Belgium and the United States in the 1960s is that a new particle must be creating a "sticky" field that acts as a drag on other particles.

The atom-smashing experiments at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, have now captured a glimpse of what appears to be just such a Higgs-like particle. The Higgs is part of many theoretical equations underpinning scientists' understanding of how the world came into being. If it doesn't exist, then those theories would need to be fundamentally overhauled.

The fact that it apparently does exist means scientists have been on the right track with their theories. But there's a twist: the measurements seem to diverge slightly from what would be expected under the so-called Standard Model of particle physics.

CERN's atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, alone cost some $10 billion to build and run. This includes the salaries of thousands of scientists and support staff around the world who collaborated on the two experiments that independently pursued the Higgs.




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