We Have Now Entered Into God’s Front Room.

Twitter 6x6

Twitter 6×6 (Photo credit: Steve Woolf)

Large Hadron Collider tunnel and dipole magnets.

Large Hadron Collider tunnel and dipole magnets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

10752

10752 (Photo credit: Panegyrics of Granovetter)

The LHC experiments and the preaccelerators. T...

The LHC experiments and the preaccelerators. The path of the protons (and ions) begins at linear accelerators (marked p and Pb, respectively). They continue their way in the booster (the small unmarked circle), in the Proton Synchrotron (PS), in the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) and finally they get into the 27-km-long LHC tunnel. In the LHC there are 4 large experiments marked with yellow dots and text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Higgs (* 1929)

Peter Higgs (* 1929) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One possible way the Higgs boson might be prod...

One possible way the Higgs boson might be produced at the Large Hadron Collider. Similar images at: http://atlas.web.cern.ch/Atlas/GROUPS/PHYSICS/Conferences/2003/aspen-03_dam.ppt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BosonFusion-Higgs

BosonFusion-Higgs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After more than 30 years of planning, building and testing, the Large Hadron Collider is providing answers that could fundamentally change the way in which we understand the universe.

CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, has revealed its preliminary data analysis today at the site of the collider in Geneva – with the revelation that a new sub-atomic particle consistent with the elusive Higgs boson has been discovered.

Named after its inceptor, Professor Peter Higgs, the boson may provide an answer to the long standing mystery of why objects have mass. As the momentous news was announced this morning Professor Higgs shed tears of joy.

He said in a statement: “I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge.”

But how did research undertaken decades ago by a British professor culminate in the announcement of the so called “God particle”?

Building blocks

After completing a degree and masters in physics, Newcastle-born Peter Higgs moved to Edinburgh in 1960 to take up lectureship and continue his research. Four years later he arrived at a breakthrough, proposing the existence of a subatomic particle that could explain how mass works.

Professor Higgs said that the finding did not come to him in a ‘eureka’ moment, but instead it was one that fermented over a period of time.

Professor Peter Higgs’ work inspired CERN’s £6bn Large Hadron Collider.

“By the summer of 1964 I knew I was on to something,” he told Der Spiegel. “That was perhaps the reason, because my head was full of thoughts, that I forgot the instructions for putting up the tent when we went for a camping trip in the Scottish mountains”.

After returning to the University of Edinburgh, Professor Higgs wrote his seminal paper “Broken Symmetries and the Masses of Gauge Bosons”, published in ‘Physical Review Letters’.

As it turned out, Professor Higgs was not the only physicist to propose such a theory.

A paper written by Robert Brout and Francois Englert [“Broken Symmetry and the Mass of Gauge Vector Mesons”] and another authored by Gerald Guralnik, C. Richard Hagen and Tom Kibble [“Global Conservation Laws and Massless Particles”] touched upon the same principles – all three theories paving the way for the ambitious work at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Put into practice

Oddly enough, Professor Higgs’ landmark work almost never saw the light of day as it was initially rejected by the editor of ‘Physics Letters’, who failed to see its importance. Higgs tinkered with his exposition and sent the piece to ‘Physical Review Letters’, who published it later that year.

Despite a mass of intrigue surrounding the work of Higgs and his contemporaries, it was not until 1976 that CERN’s Professor John Ellis hinted that the research should be put to the test. What followed was 36 years of conception and construction of the Large Hadron Collider- a £6bn project to find the elusive Higgs boson.

The world’s largest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider.

Built beneath the Swiss/French border at Geneva, the mammoth collider extends more than 16.5m in a circular tunnel – a complex system which took a decade to build. Since its initiation in 2008, the collider has encountered a number of technical problems, but physicists captured a hint of the boson’s existence late last year, although more data was needed for confirmation.

In essence the Large Hadron Collider was built to create the ideal conditions to produce evidence of the Higgs boson. The collider contains 1200 magnets cooled to -271C, which accelerate protons to 99.9% of the speed of light. At this speed the protons then ‘collide’, creating thousands of new particles.

Physicists believe that for every billion collisions 10 Higgs bosons are created, although it is a fine art to measure.

“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer today.

He pointed out, though, that further work was needed to identify what exactly had been found.

“As a layman I would say we have it, but as a scientist I have to say, ‘what do we have?'” Heuer told a press conference.

“We have discovered a boson, and now we have to determine what kind of boson it is.”

Finding the Higgs would validate the Standard Model, a theory which identifies the building blocks for matter and the particles that convey fundamental forces.

It is a hugely successful theory but has several gaps, the biggest of which is why some particles have mass but others do not.

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