Higgs boson excitement: Almost palpable (+video)
Scientists hope to report the discovery of the Higgs boson particle by the end of 2012. Such a discovery would help explain the composition of the universe.
Physicists at a U.S. laboratory said on Monday they have come tantalizingly close to proving the existence of the elusive subatomic Higgs boson - often called the "God particle" because it may bring mass and order to the universe.Skip to next paragraph
The announcement by the Fermi National Accelerator Lab outside Chicago came two days before physicists at CERN, the European particle accelerator near Geneva, are set to unveil their own findings in the Higgs hunt. CERN houses the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
The Fermilab scientists found hints of the Higgs in the debris from trillions of collisions between beams of protons and anti-protons over 10 years at the lab's now-shuttered Tevatron accelerator.
But the evidence still fell short of the scientific threshold for proof of the discovery of the particle, they said, in that the same collision debris hinting at the existence of the Higgs could also come from other subatomic particles.
"This is the best answer that is out there at the moment," said physicist Rob Roser of Fermilab, which is run by the U.S. Department of Energy. "The Tevatron data strongly point toward the existence of the Higgs boson, but it will take results from the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe to establish a firm discovery."
Scientists have worked long and hard to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, the final piece of a model proposed four decades ago laying out the basic building blocks of matter in the universe.
The Higgs particle's presumed power to confer mass seems to endow it with the power of creation itself, which helped lead to its "God particle" nickname.
Many physicists loathe the term, fretting that it makes their discipline seem self-aggrandizing.
Physicists not connected to Fermilab expressed cautious optimism that the long-sought particle had finally been found.
"These intriguing hints from the Tevatron appear to support the results from the LHC shown at CERN in December," said Dan Tovey, professor of particle physics at the University of Sheffield in Britain.
"The results are particularly important because they use a completely different and complementary way of searching for the Higgs boson. This gives us more confidence that what we are seeing is really evidence of new physics rather than just a statistical fluke," Tovey added.
Tovey said scientists will have to wait until Wednesday for the latest results from the European scientists before "getting the full picture" concerning the Higgs boson.
'A Nice Result'
CERN spokesman James Gillies called Fermilab's findings "a nice result," but added that "it will be interesting to see how it lines up with CERN's results on Wednesday. Nature is the final arbiter so we'll have to be a little more patient before we know for sure whether we've found the Higgs."
Tom LeCompte, a scientist at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois who works at CERN and knows the results, said he was confident the Higgs would be shown to exist, or not exist, this year. But he would not say if the findings to be unveiled Wednesday would be definitive.
"I know 2012 is the year. I can't tell you July is the month," LeCompte said.
Others were less cautious. "This is the most exciting week in physics history," said theoretical physicist Joe Lykken of Fermilab.
The Higgs particle is the final quarry in a hunt that began some 40 years ago, when physicists assembled what is now known as the Standard Model. The model is considered the culmination of a quest for the fundamental constituents of matter and the forces that determine how they interact, a search that began some 2,400 years ago with Greek philosopher Democritus' hypothesis that everything is composed of indivisible atoms.
According to the Standard Model, matter is composed of various combinations of six leptons, including the well-known electron and the ghostly neutrino, and six quarks, to which physicists have given whimsical names such as "charm," "bottom," and "strange." The protons at the core of atoms, for instance, are composed of two "up" quarks and one "down" quark.
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