Existence of the God Particle Confirmed?
Scientists have been searching for the Higgs boson, a type of particle first theorized in 1964, for over four decades. Two years ago, they found the first piece of evidence for its existence, and today, a study from The European Organization for Nuclear Research reinforced this finding. Using the largest collider in the world, a team of particle physicists smashed protons together in order to observe one of the predicted features of the Higgs boson: their direct decay into fermions.
"In July 2012, we knew we had discovered some sort of boson, and it looked a lot like it was a Higgs boson," said study co-author Paul Padley, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University. "To firmly establish it's the Standard Model Higgs boson, there are a number of checks we have to do. This paper represents one of these fundamental checks."
If confirmed, the existence of the Higgs boson would resolve several unanswered questions about the Standard Model of physics. Among other things, it virtually proves the existence of the Higgs field, an invisible energy field that is omnipresent in the universe. The field transfers mass to previously massless particles, which explains why particles in the universe have the mass required to attract one another. The Higgs boson was theorized as a proof for the Higgs field; researchers have been attempting to confirm the existence of the Higgs field by discovering the type of particle that it would emit. One of the predicted qualities of the Higgs boson was its tendency to decay into fermions, which are even more fundamental particles consisting of quarks and leptons. The fermions emerge from the decaying bosons at breakneck speed, and as a result can be tracked by researchers before they disappear after a fraction of a second.
The confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson would be a huge step towards answering the questions fundamental to "new" physics: the sub-field of theoretical physics that attempts to address the deficiencies of the Standard Model in order to formulate the elusive Theory of Everything. "We're trying to probe questions about the universe and dark matter," said study co-author Karl Ecklund, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Rice. "In fact, there was a big study of the priorities in particle physics, and the No. 1 priority for the entire field is to study the properties of this boson and use it as a tool for discovery. This represents a step down that path."
This type of particle is often called the "God particle," a nickname that is almost universally derided by physicists. While the discovery of the Higgs boson could potentially be crucial to our understanding of the universe, it would not resolve all of the issues associated with the Standard Model, nor does it have anything to do with the origin of the universe. The name comes from a book by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon M. Lederman and science writer Dick Teresi, "The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?" By way of explanation for the nickname, Lederman and Teresi write, "This boson is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive, that I have given it a nickname: the God Particle. Why God Particle? ... One, the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing."