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Higgs updates from resort

New Delhi, March 2: A conference in the Italian winter resort of La Thuile will provide updates on physicists’ efforts to determine whether a sub-atomic particle discovered last year is indeed the long-elusive Higgs boson, or something else.

Physicists will present their analyses based on data collected by a laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, from the whole of 2012, refining their results from last July when they had announced a particle that seemed to behave like the long-elusive Higgs boson.

Scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or Cern, had announced their discovery of what looked like a Higgs boson, the only missing puzzle of the Standard Model, an elegant theory of the building blocks of the universe.

The particle, first proposed by British physicist Peter Higgs in 1964, belongs to a family of particles named after 20th century Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose.

“A discovery has two components — first the ‘sprint’ where one declares the observation of something new,” said Vivek Sharma, a senior physicist at the University of California, San Diego, and a key member of an experimental team at Cern. “Then the ‘marathon’, where one studies in detail the properties of the new particle observed,” Sharma told The Telegraph.

“We're currently analysing about 2.5 times the dataset we had used for the July 4 discovery announcement.”

The Standard Model theory predicts the Higgs boson to have certain properties, and scientists have been trying to determine whether the observed particle’s behaviour matches the predictions.

Scientists say the major focus of current attention is how the particle which has only a fleeting existence decays into other sub-atomic particles. Specific decay channels, as physicists call them, should match the predicted decay channels.

But in the July 2012 announcement and through analyses until December 2012, tiny discrepancies had emerged between the observed and predicted channels, but large statistical uncertainties mean that scientists cannot draw any conclusions yet.

“Everyone’s waiting for the latest analyses on these data channels,” said Sudeshna Banerjee, a senior physicist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, who is involved in other experiments at Cern. The analysis of the decay channels is an important step towards resolving the question of whether this is the Higgs boson from the Standard Model or something else, Banerjee told this newspaper.

“A discrepancy with the theoretical predictions of the strengths of the decay channels would be one of the strongest markers for new physics,” Sergio Bertolucci, Cern’s research director said in a media release issued last night.

Research teams from Cern are also expected to present at the La Thuile conference their latest results of the search for heavier versions of the known subatomic particles predicted by another theory of physics called supersymmetry, or Susy.

 
 
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