Fermilab studies confirm physicists are close on elusive Higgs boson ‘God particle’

By SETH BORENSTEIN March 7, 2012 8:48AM


The 40-year scientific quest to find and prove the existence of the elusive Higgs boson — the so-called “God particle” that would help explain the fundamentals of the universe — appears to be nearing an end.

The latest evidence comes from two teams totaling more than 800 physicists who studied years of test results from the now-closed Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab in Batavia.

They didn’t turn up absolute proof of the subatomic particle. But they say they’ve now narrowed the area where they think it will be found, if indeed it’s proven to exist. And they predicted the hunt will be over by the end of this year.

“I don’t think there’s any place for the Higgs to hide,” said Fermi physicist Rob Roser, a spokesman for one team. “We’ll know the answer one way or another by the end of 2012.”

The findings, announced Wednesday in Italy, offer independent confirmation of the “getting closer” findings announced in December by two groups working at the more powerful Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, outside Geneva, Switzerland.

At Fermi, two teams independently used the accelerator in different ways. Two other teams in Europe used the Large Hadron Collider. Fermi’s Tevatron collides protons and antiprotons together, while CERN smashes protons together. That means four different groups using different techniques and equipment have come to the same general conclusion.

Still, that’s not certain enough for scientists to even call it evidence yet, Roser said — more like hints of the Higgs.

“I’m not even willing to bet your house on it, let alone mine,” he said.

While the results from Fermi’s collider aren’t as precise as CERN’s, they are important because they give the European results more credence, Harvard University physicist Gary Feldman said.

The Tevatron closed in September, so it’s likely that the final discovery of the Higgs will be in Europe, Roser said.

The Higgs was first hypothesized 40 years ago. It’s important to physics because its existence is crucial to the “standard model” theory that helps explain the six subatomic particles that make up the universe. Without it, there is no explanation for why the particles have mass.

“It would be a triumph of the theory to actually see that it happens,” Feldman said.


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