Data Hint at Hypothetical Particle, Key to Mass in the Universe

March 8, 2012 12:00 am

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After 40 years, more evidence is being reported Wednesday that the end of the biggest manhunt in the history of physics might finally be in sight.

Physicists from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., say they have found a bump in their data that might be the long-sought Higgs boson, a hypothesized particle that is responsible for endowing other elementary particles with mass.

The signal, in data collected over the last several years at Fermilab's Tevatron accelerator, agrees roughly with results announced last December from two independent experimental groups working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, outside Geneva.

 "Based on the current Tevatron data and results compiled through December 2011 by other experiments, this is the strongest hint of the existence of a Higgs boson," said the report, which will be presented on Wednesday by Wade Fisher of Michigan State University to a physics conference in La Thuile, Italy.

None of these results, either singly or collectively, are strong enough for scientists to claim victory. But the recent run of reports has encouraged them to think that the elusive particle, which is the key to mass and diversity in the universe, is within sight, perhaps as soon as this summer.

Beate Heinemann, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been deeply involved in analyzing data from the Large Hadron Collider, said recently of the CERN results, "This very much smells like the Higgs boson." But, she noted, the signal could also go away when more data is obtained.

The Higgs boson is the key piece of the Standard Model, an ambitious suite of equations that has ruled the universe of high-energy physics for the last few decades, explaining how three of the four fundamental forces of nature work. But the boson itself has never been observed. The theory describes how it should work and behave but does not predict one of its key attributes, namely its mass.

 Last December, two groups, which run giant particle detectors named Atlas and C.M.S. from the CERN collider, reported that they had found promising bumps in their data at masses of 124 billion electron volts and 126 billion electron volts, respectively, those being the units of mass or energy preferred by particle physicists. (By comparison, a proton is about a billion electron volts, and an electron is about half a million.)

First Published 2012-03-07 23:02:39

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