Higgs boson ‘breakthrough of year’

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THE capture of the most sought after sub-atomic particle in physics was last night named as the scientific breakthrough of the year.

Scientists had been chasing the Higgs boson, nicknamed the “God particle”, for more than four decades. In July, the team from the European nuclear research facility at Cern in Geneva announced the detection of a particle that fitted the description of the elusive Higgs.

The boson is hypothesised to give matter mass via an associated “Higgs field” that permeates space. Without the property of mass, the universe we live in could not exist.

Scientists used the world’s biggest atom-smashing machine, the £2.6 billion Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border, to track down the missing particle.

Finding the Higgs topped the list of most important discoveries of 2012 released by Science, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals.

The particle was first proposed by British physicist Professor Peter Higgs almost 50 years ago when he was a 34-year-old scientist working at the University of Edinburgh.

But until this year, no-one had been able to prove that his theory was right.

Science news correspondent Adrian Cho, who wrote about the discovery in the journal’s latest issue, said: “Just as an electric field consists of particles called photons, the Higgs field consists of Higgs bosons woven into the vacuum. Physicists have now blasted them out of the vacuum and into brief existence.”

Science also lists nine other pioneering achievements from 2012. Included among them were brain-machine interfaces, where scientists showed paralysed human patients could move a mechanical arm with their minds, and the Denisovan Genome, in which scientists sequenced the DNA blueprint of the Denisovans, an extinct species of human that lived alongside Neanderthals and the ancestors of people living today.