Has Quest for the Elusive 'God Particle' Succeeded?
Published April 25, 2011
Aug. 7, 2010: An amateur photographer takes a picture in the assembly room of the elements of the LHC (large hadron collider) during the Particle Physics Photowalk at the European Particle Physics laboratory (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland.
The news was simply too exciting to keep under wraps: A Swiss particle accelerator may have found a long-sought subatomic bit called the Higgs Boson -- something never before seen, but thought to be the fundamental unit of matter. It's called the "God Particle" because it is the one thing that lends mass to all other stuff.
But is it too good to be true? Or merely blabbering physicists, battling it out for a spot in the public eye?
The controversial rumor is based on a leaked internal note from physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile-long particle accelerator near Geneva that sits on the sharpest part of the cutting edge of science. The note details an unexpected "bump" in emissions that may be proof of the long-sought particle.
If the find is true, it's a game changer for science, explained Dmitri Denisov, a physicist with Fermilabs in Illinois.
"I would compare it to the discovery of electricity," he told FoxNews.com.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest scientific machine. Built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) at a cost of $10 billion the atom smasher, intended to enact the conditions of the "Big Bang," has worked only nine days and has yet to smash an atom, but CERN plans to restart the collider in November in hopes of unlocking secrets of the universe.
World's Largest Atom Smasher May Have Detected 'God Particle'
Swiss Atom Smasher Breaks World Record
Mystery Atom Discovery Has Physicists Abuzz
Could Atom Smasher be Used as a Time Machine?
Scientists Close In on God Particle
Sau Lan Wu, the Enrico Fermi professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and one of the controversial memo's authors, told FoxNews.com she couldn't speak further about the discovery -- not yet, anyway.
But two weeks earlier, scientists at the Tevatron atom smasher at Fermilab in Illinois heralded their own discovery: a new particle, also evidenced by a "bump" in the data.
The Tevatron bump and the CERN bump aren't connected, however, said Rob Roser, staff scientist at Fermilab. He pointed out that the two colliders work in different ways, one smashing protons and antiprotons, the other colliding protons with other protons. But Roser was unsurprised that Wu had made such a startling claim.
"She's very aggressive, shall we say," he told FoxNews.com
Roser said Wu's team has been on a lengthy quest for the Higgs Boson, ever since CERN shuttered her old project -- the aging Large Electron Positron Collider II. Just before that project ended, Wu claimed a similar discovery, Roser said.
"She didn't just happen on this, she's been pushing hard on the data sets and pushing to understand the simulations for quite a while," he told FoxNews.com.
Tommaso Dorigo, an experimental particle physicist who works with both atom smashers, blogged about Wu's discovery on Friday. He shared the same suspicions as Roser, noting that Wu was "among those less happy of the decommissioning of LEP II at the time when they were claiming a possible Higgs signal."
"Maybe these guys have been looking for some confirmation of the 115 GeV Higgs all along," he wrote. Dorigo did not respond to FoxNews.com requests for more information.
James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN, explained that the leaked note faces several layers of scrutiny before it could be submitted for publication. "Things such as this show up quite frequently in the course of analysis," he told FoxNews.com.
"It's way too soon to get excited, I'm afraid," he said. "It's not the physics find of the millennium, unfortunately."
WHAT IS A 'HIGGS BOSON'?
Isn't mass just inherent in stuff? How could one particle be responsible for the mass of another? Physicists believe the Higgs does just that -- and an analogy at the Exploratorium website explains the concept nicely.
"Imagine you're at a Hollywood party. The crowd is rather thick, and evenly distributed around the room, chatting. When the big star arrives, the people nearest the door gather around her. As she moves through the party, she attracts the people closest to her, and those she moves away from return to their other conversations.
"By gathering a fawning cluster of people around her, she's gained momentum, an indication of mass. She's harder to slow down than she would be without the crowd. Once she's stopped, it's harder to get her going again."
INSIDE THE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER
True or not, you have to be amazed by everything about the LHC, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator.
The collider is a 17-mile looped tunnel designed to create "mini-Big Bangs" by smashing together particles. Inside the tunnel, essentially a massive donut that sits on the border between France and Switzerland, two beams of light are shot in either direction and accelerated with magnets to nearly the speed of light.
In order for the superconducting magnets to work at maximum efficiency, they are chilled to 519 degrees Farenheit -- colder than outer space. This means the LHC is also the world's largest refrigerator, the CERN website points out.
To record the incredibly fast and incredibly tiny collisions of hundreds of thousands of particles, there are several giant detectors -- essentially super high-speed cameras recording millions of data points per second. But because the Large Hadron Collider will produce roughly 15 petabytes (15 million gigabytes) of data annually, ordinary connections wouldn't be capable of transmitting all of that data fast enough.
To store all of the information coming out of the machine, the detectors are tied into a next-generation computer network called The Grid, a superfast network of fiber optic cables just to carry all that information.