Monday 20 November 2017

Mind wins out over matter as 'God particle' within our grasp

John von Radowitz in Geneva

SCIENTISTS may have finally tracked down the elusive "God particle" that gives matter mass and holds the physical fabric of the universe together.

Teams at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the €3.2bn "Big Bang" atom-smasher near Geneva, said they had found a new particle "consistent" with the Higgs boson.

The discovery was described today as "momentous" and "a milestone". But the results are preliminary, and more work is needed before the scientists can be sure about what they have captured.

Observations so far show it looks and acts like the long-sought particle that has eluded them for 50 years.

Finding the Higgs is vital to the Standard Model, the theory that describes the web of particles, forces and interactions that make up the universe.

Without the Higgs boson to give matter mass and weight, there could be no Standard Model universe. If it was proven not to exist, scientists would have to rip up the theory and go back to the drawing board.

Announcement

Professor Peter Higgs, the retired British physicist from Edinburgh University who lent his name to the particle, heard the announcement with other scientists at a packed seminar in Geneva.

The announcement came at the Geneva headquarters of Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, where a tense audience heard the latest progress report from the LHC.

In December last year, LHC scientists revealed they had caught the first tantalising glimpses of the particle.

But the process of proving this new piece of the universe is real is a slow and careful one, similar to getting closer to a familiar face seen from afar.

Since the initial excitement, the scientists have sifted through vast quantities of data from billions of high energy collisions in an effort to reduce the chances of being wrong.

Today, they confirmed that two of the LHC's giant detectors, CMS and Atlas, had delivered results achieving the definitive "five sigma" level of proof.

A sigma is a measure of how likely it is that a finding is down to chance.

At five sigma, the likelihood of a statistical fluke is one in a million.

Cern director general Rolf Heuer said: "We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature."

The LHC, the largest scientific instrument ever built, lies in an underground tunnel with a circumference of 17 miles (27.4km) that straddles the French-Swiss border near Geneva.

Protons, the "hearts" of atoms, are fired around the ring in opposite directions at almost the speed of light. When they smash together, huge amounts of energy are converted into mass and new particles created which then decay into lighter particles.

Higgs bosons emerge from the maelstrom but only very fleetingly -- less than a trillionth of a second -- before decaying. By tracing the decay patterns, the scientists were able to find the "fingerprint" of the Higgs.

What it means, Page 20

Irish Independent

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