SCIENTISTS have searched for it for nearly 50 years. They have carried out millions of experiments and spent billions of pounds. And yesterday the long years of searching for the elusive “God particle” came to a climax with an announcement it had been discovered. Almost certainly.
In what must pass for one of the greatest understatements in the history of scientific endeavour, one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century was unveiled to the world with the words: “I think we have it.”
The announcement by Rolf Heur, the director general of Cern (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research), confirmed the “momentous” news that evidence of the Higgs boson particle – which gives matter mass and holds the universe together – has at last been captured.
The eagerly awaited news follows decades of work sifting through data from billions of high-energy particle collisions and represents the results of £2.6 billion spent on the largest scientific experiment ever built – the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
The breakthrough comes almost half a century after the particle’s existence was first proposed by Edinburgh-based physicist, Professor Peter Higgs, who has now been tipped for a Nobel prize.
However, even yesterday when the discovery was confirmed, there remained a small element of doubt. Mr Heur choose his words carefully when he said: “As a layman I would now say, ‘I think we have it’.
“We have a discovery – we have observed a new particle consistent with a Higgs boson.”
For the scientists and researchers gathered in the room “a particle consistent with a Higgs boson” was good enough and the room erupted into applause. A microphone was passed to Prof Higgs, who came up with the theory for the existence of the particle in 1964.
Prof Higgs, 83, was seen to wipe away a tear as he heard the announcement.
He was met by claps and cheers as he said: “It’s really an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime.”
The Higgs boson is the last missing piece waiting to be discovered to support a theory used to explain the universe known as the Standard Model.
Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, principal of the University of Edinburgh, said: “This particle is integral to our understanding of the world and evidence of its existence is a testament to Professor Higgs and to all the scientists who are working to uncover it.”
Dr Craig Buttar, physicist at the University of Glasgow, where 35 staff have been involved with the hunt for the boson, described it as a “milestone”.
Professor Sir Peter Knight, president of the Institute of Physics, said the discovery of the Higgs boson is as significant to physics as the discovery of DNA was to biology.
He added: “It sets the course for a brand new adventure in our efforts to understand the fabric of our universe.”
Observations carried out at the LHC, an atom-smasher that attempts to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang, have revealed a particle that looks and acts like the Higgs boson.
The scientists have sifted through vast quantities of data in an effort to reduce the chances of being wrong.
Yesterday, they confirmed that the chance of the discovery of a new particle being just a statistical fluke had been narrowed down to one in a million. However, they emphasised the results were preliminary and more work is needed before they can be sure exactly what they have found.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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