Higgs on way, theories thicken - Wait for news on God particle

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  • Published 4.07.12

New Delhi, July 3: Peter Higgs, an 82-year-old British physicist, will be among guests in a Geneva laboratory tomorrow morning to hear scientists unveil the latest results of their search for a subatomic particle he had predicted 48 years ago.

Laboratory officials said Higgs and three other physicists who had proposed a theory that would imply the existence of a new fundamental particle, which would be called the Higgs boson, are expected to be at the scientific seminar on the results.

Their expected presence has heightened speculation that the experimental teams looking for the Higgs boson, popularly dubbed the “God particle”, might announce a discovery or at least very strong evidence for the particle.

The Higgs boson is the last missing piece of an elegant, mathematical theory of nature that explains almost all forces and particles known in the universe except gravity.

“Our intention was to invite them at some point — but in this instance, they invited themselves,” said James Gilles, a spokesperson for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, where scientists are using a giant particle collider called the Large Hadron Collider to look for the Higgs.

Peter Higgs

The other physicists — all septuagenarians — who had postulated the “Higgs mechanism” and are expected to be at CERN tomorrow are Belgian Francois Englebert, and Americans Carl Hagen and Gerald Guralnik. “They wrote asking: ‘can we come?’ and we said ‘yes, of course’,” Gilles said.

The scientific seminar will begin in CERN’s main auditorium at 9am local time (12.30 IST) and webcast. More than 500 academic institutions worldwide that have contributed to the LHC effort are expected to be watching the webcast, a CERN official said.

The search for the Higgs boson is based on two experiments at the LHC called the CMS and ATLAS. US physicist Joe Incandela, spokesperson for the CMS, will be the first to reveal its results — the outcome of a coin toss last December.

In December 2011, when CERN had announced that it had detected tantalising but still inconclusive hints of the Higgs boson, the ATLAS spokesperson, an Italian physicist named Fabiola Gianotti, had begun the seminar. “We’d tossed a coin then, Fabiola went first, so Joe goes first this time,” Gilles told The Telegraph.

Earlier search efforts for the Higgs boson relying on less powerful particle colliders had failed to confirm its existence. Scientists working on a machine called the Tevatron at Fermilab in the US announced on Monday that their final search results “strongly point towards the existence of the Higgs boson, but it will take results from the LHC in Europe to establish a discovery”.

Tevatron scientists have discovered what could be possible signatures of the Higgs boson, with a 1-in-550 chance that the signatures are because of statistical fluctuations. In order to establish a discovery, physicists need to show that the chance that the signatures are due to statistical fluctuation are 3 in 10 million.

In recent weeks, physicists have speculated about possible announcements from CERN through blogs. One particle physics blog has set up a clock, counting each second backwards to 9am Geneva time Wednesday, calling it the Higgs Counter.

One physicist in the US wrote in his blog that when he walked into his office yesterday, he found a bottle of champagne with a label pasted on its back saying: “For use in case of... Higgs discovery.”