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Particle discovery is game changer for understanding the universe

Whether discovery is a Higgs or not, particle could explain dark matter, anti-matter, how universe began

July 5, 2012 04:52 PM ET

Computerworld - Physicists trying to understand dark matter, anti-matter and the origin of the universe say the key to these great mysteries may lie with the discovery of a sub-atomic particle, whether it's the elusive Higgs boson or not.

"This is a keystone," said A.J. Stewart Smith, physicist and dean for research at Princeton University. "This will give us more of an understanding of why everything exists ... This is huge in magnitude and scope."

A.J. Stewart Smith
"This will give us more of an understanding of why everything exists ... This is huge in magnitude and scope, " said physicist A.J. Stewart Smith, dean for research at Princeton University, referring to the discovery of a subatomic particle that is believed to be the Higgs boson.

On Wednesday, scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced the discovery of a new particle, and early indications point to it being the Higgs boson, which has such great mystery and scientific importance that it has been dubbed the God particle.

The Higgs boson is a theoretical sub-atomic particle that is thought to be the reason that everything has mass. Basically, without mass -- without the Higgs boson -- there would be no nuclear structure to anything, so there would be no trees, no people, no plants, no stars.

Professor Peter Higgs, a British physicist, first suggested the existence of the mass-causing particle in the 1960s. As it became a cornerstone of physics theory, the search to find the particle was on.

While CERN scientists would not go so far as to say definitively that the particle is the Higgs boson, first indications point in that direction.

For instance, Smith noted that the particle's mass is what scientists expected for a Higgs. The way it decays and what it decays into also go along with what would be expected for a Higgs boson.

However, these are initial tests. Many more will be required to determine if the discovery is a Higgs boson.

Antonio Boveia, a physicist at the University of Chicago and part of the CERN team, said more data is needed for study but that information will come from more particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle collider in the world.

The collider is scheduled to run for the rest of this year but then will be shut down for two years for a power upgrade. If scientists don't have enough data by December to prove or disprove that the particle is a Higgs, they'll have to wait two years.

"We'll have some degree of confidence by the end of the year, but it's an open question as to if we'll have enough," said Boveia, who called finding the particle the most exciting discovery in 30 years. "But probably not."

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