'God' particle may have been spotted at CERN

Physicists at Large Hadron Collider race to verify results before global conference in July

Has the God particle been spotted?

It has yet to be confirmed from the source, but Wired and the New York Times are tentatively predicting the coterie of physicists who gathered in Switzerland this week will confirm a December experiment at the Large Hadron Collider did, indeed, spot the elusive, possibly apocryphal Higgs boson .

Nicknamed the "god particle" for its theoretical role as the particle that makes it possible for all the other particles in the quantum pantheon to have mass, the Higgs represents the key piece of evidence that it is possible to create a Unified Field Theory that describes the relationship among all four major natural forces: Electromagnetism, strong nuclear forces, weak nuclear forces and gravity.

The Standard Model of the universe tries to define what matter is and why it behaves as it does. To do so it assumes all matter is made up of combinations of 12 particles that confuse physicists with their odd behavior and confuse civilians with their ephemeral nature and odd names (e.g. quarks come in the varieties: up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom).

Bosons, under the Standard Model theory, are responsible for transferring forces from one particle to another. The Higgs boson would explain why photons and have no mass while other subatomic particles are far heavier than they should be.

Here, from the National Science Foundation-funded Exploratorium is the simplest explanation I've seen of what the Higgs is and what it's expected to do:

"Electromagnetism describes how particles interact with photons, tiny packets of electromagnetic radiation. In a similar way, the weak force describes how two other entities, the W and Z particles, interact with electrons, quarks, neutrinos and others. There is one very important difference between these two interactions: photons have no mass, while the masses of W and Z are huge. In fact, they are some of the most massive particles known.

The first inclination is to assume that W and Z simply exist and interact with other elemental particles. But for mathematical reasons, the giant masses of W and Z raise inconsistencies in the Standard Model. To address this, physicists postulate that there must be at least one other particle – the Higgs boson. " – Origins, Exploratorium.edu

If this isn't Higgs, we'll need a bigger collider

Confirming the Higgs exists would end an increasingly expensive search depending on larger and larger particle colliders that seems to have culminated in the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, where the secrets of the universe are probed at the theoretical risk it will create black holes that could destroy the Earth (here is CERN's Twitter feed).

Built partially underground in tunnels bored through the Alps, the $10 billion LHC hasn't produced either black holes or definitive answers about the Higgs, at least not yet. If it can't produce definitive answers, the only choice would be to build a bigger, higher-energy collider.

However, d uring an experiment in December, scientists found a signal that could indicate a Higgs particle, but with a mass far less than expected, Wired reported.

That doesn't mean it wasn't the Higgs. If it was, the low mass would contradict the simplest models of how subatomic particles interact. While simple is usually good, under both Occam's Razor and the quest for reproducible experimental results, an unexpectedly svelte Higgs would indicate some more complex explanation was necessary. Supersymmetry, for example, assumes every fundamental particle of matter would have one "shadow" particle carrying mass and another carrying force.

The Standard Model with the heavy Higgs boson in place is simpler and more definitive, but the weak evidence of it coming out of LHC experiments in December left the odds that it exists at slightly less than 50-50, according to separate groups of physicist sources quoted in both Wired and the NYT.

After more consideration, and a repeat of the experiments following a maintenance shutdown for the LHC, rumors are flying of more compelling evidence for the Higgs – evidence LHC scientists are trying to vet and prepare to present at the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP),in Australia, July 4 to 11, according to the NYT.

"The bottom line though is now clear: There’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look," according to a post by mathematician Peter Woit, who writes the blog Not Even Wrong when not senior-lecturing in Mathematics at Columbia.

The final announcement may have to wait until the ICHEP in two weeks. However, physicists are at least as gossipy about exciting news as any other species of geek, so if news of the Higgs discovery is true, it's very likely we'll hear about it before then.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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