Nailing Down the Elusive Higgs Boson

Posted July 6th, 2012 at 6:34 pm (UTC-4)

ATLAS Experiment illustration of two protons beams colliding. Experiments similar to this one will be analyzed for Higgs boson particle production.. (Photo: © 2011 CERN - Atlas collaboration)

Illustration of two protons beams colliding in the Large Haldron Collider. Experiments similar to this one will be analyzed for Higgs boson particle production. (© 2011 CERN – Atlas collaboration)


Although it was the Fourth of July holiday in the United States, there were plenty of fireworks in Europe, where scientists announced they’d probably found the elusive Higgs boson, a particle believed to give all objects mass.

At  CERN headquarters in Geneva, two independent scientific teams – ATLAS and CMS – announced they’ve observed a new particle in the mass region around 125-126 GeV (gigaelectron volt).

But is this newly-discovered particle actually the previously-unseen Higgs boson first proposed in 1964 by British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs?

Well, they’re pretty sure it is, but can’t say with 100 percent  certainty.

“We observe, in our data, clear signs of a new particle at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV,” said ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, “but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication.”

Peter Higgs is best known for his theory explaining the origin of mass of elementary particles in general and the Higgs Boson in particular. (Photo: Gert-Martin Greuel via Wikipedia Commons)

Peter Higgs is best known for his theory explaining the origin of mass of elementary particles in general and the Higgs Boson in particular. (Photo: Gert-Martin Greuel via Wikipedia Commons)

CERN describes “Five sigma” as the top end of a scale particle physicists use to describe the certainty of a discovery. One sigma means the results could be random fluctuations in the data, three sigma counts as an observation and a five-sigma result is a discovery.

“This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found,” said CMS experiment spokesperson Joe Incandela. “The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this reason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks.”

The Higgs boson is believed to play a critical role in physics, as a building block of the universe.

The theoretical subatomic particle should help explain the origins of mass and why matter has mass. It is considered to be a key component of “The Standard Model of particle physics.”

“It’s hard not to get excited by these results,” said Sergio Bertolucci, CERN research director. “We stated last year that in 2012 we would either find a new Higgs-like particle or exclude the existence of the Standard Model Higgs. With all the necessary caution, it looks to me that we are at a branching point: the observation of this new particle indicates the path for the future towards a more detailed understanding of what we’re seeing in the data.”

The Large Hadron Collider/ATLAS at CERN (Photo: CERN)

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN (Photo: CERN)

The results presented this week in Geneva are based on data collected by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the the world’s largest atom smasher, in 2011 and 2012.  More 2012 LHC data is being processed, so a complete analysis isn’t expected until around the end of July.

Next week, I talk with Dr. Pierre Savard,  an Atlas team member, who will give us an insider’s view of the search for most sought-after particle in modern science.

If you have any questions you’d like to ask Dr. Savard, please let me know through our comments section below.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

8 responses to “Nailing Down the Elusive Higgs Boson”

  1. ciro delgado says:

    Because the lifetime of the Higgs boson is so counted, if so the only way that the universe exists is that each atom has an infinite mass (inexhaustible) for this course, our world would know us as a kind bubble traveling at speeds similar to that of light is the only way to have infinite mass

  2. […] Voice of America (blog) […]

  3. Godwin says:

    Higg’s boson – did you call it the god particle? This is an idea to nullify the existence of God. It does not work. For you cannot find God inside an atom – the God who made the universe and is larger than it all, how do you expect to find him in the minutest of his creation. This is wrong. God is not empirical and not material. God is spiritual and nothing spiritual has material form even though material can form from spiritual maneuvering. Now the West is returning to metaphysics and some are going mystical by virtue of the societies and cults being patronized, are the nature of these societies to be found in empirical format? Unless I do not understand what is implied by this god-particle, the whole episode is not interesting in this era at all when for lack of truth marriages are collapsing, families are disintegrating and human values are becoming fable as if people fell down from Mars, higg’s boson is a bad distraction. The human race is still looking for solution to AIDS, cancer, TB, malaria and many other health challenges that have bedeviled man since the theory of higg’s boson, and achievements and breakthroughs in medical research turned into Babel(lian) disaster. Godly minded people should please ignore this so-called discovery.

  4. Bimal Kr Ray says:

    To, Mr. Godwin — Leonard Mlodinow — S. Hawkings, & all others,
    According to Hindu Vedanta, the most ancient concept of God in this world as predicted by Hindus, God is Omnipotent & can not be touched, can not be conceived; because it is neither a particle nor an energy wave, — Higgs Boson (Boson name is after Prof. Satendranath Bose of India given by Einstein to honor him for his mathematical calculation). God if it is to be realized you must understand it is not the Newton’s Gravity or any scientists’ ‘discovery, it is not to be conceived by theory of Singularity, String Theory, or theory of Relativity & not in Quarks, Proton, Atom or, not within the purview of Quantum Theory. As you have said, God should be everywhere, not within the Atom or Photon, not in the sun, moon, galaxies, milk ways, but beyond, through out the universes (Bramhando) before Big Bang & after Big Bang. Your materialistic reasons & capacity of brain with your intelligence however superior it may be can not conceive, because it is not understandable, it is to be realized, it is not a mass with length, breath, height & dimensions, can not be described, it is the illusion & illusion only to be realized, not with the capacity of your brain & intelligence. It is much larger only for heart to feel.
    God bless you.

  5. The Religiosa take exception to anything related to The Big Bang Theory …
    and keep pressing the defensive hackneyed conundrum about
    “the chicken and the egg”… without wishing to step on corns,
    my 3 score and ten + years must throw into the melting pot the sublime feeling of exhilaration
    (not to mention quixotic freedom) felt, when, as a young 24-year old architect ,
    read … “The Outline of History”: by HG Wells … and got a breathtaking bird’s eye
    view of the past and where we are going.

    But there was a special revelation at the time … living as I then did close to the eastern side of Table Mountain, and forever clambering across the mighty thrust of it’s 1000 metre rock-face … a sudden awareness that the small bit of sandstone in my hand,
    was as real and alive as anything in the Universe … a bit of “magical stardust”.

    Wells, was the son of a parson … and must have rebelled at the biblical Creation dogmas … and now we have a Super Collider giving us news of a bison “God” particle.

    Just a quick PS … South Africa (with Australia) is busy with the Four-Square assembly of radio telescopes to reach back to the time of The Big Bang (said to be 14 billion years ago) … but then, who’s counting.

  6. Robert says:

    I agree with Godwin that we should not be calling this the GOD particle however, we are expected by the creator to search further and further into the make up of all things. In doing so we actually understand the creator better and what is expected of us. Godwin states the concern for research into AIDS etc etc. We WILL make those kinds of discoveries by understanding the make up of the universe as we are not separate but part of it. All medical calamities are types of mass i.e. cancer and when we know how control that mass we fix our bodies. Just as an antacid fixes our stomach aches. Fire is a manipulation of mass that has allowed us to be more than mindless animals and these discoveries I believe will actually break us from bonds of evil and discourse. Godly people should definitely embrace man kinds enlightment of the make up of our universe. Amen

  7. Jnan Bora says:

    Godwin has presented a negetive interpretation of God Particle. The origin of everything in the universe is spirit. Spirit turns material and matter turns into spirit at the end of material life in the cycle of creation and recreation. God is the Supreme Spirit who is the creator and recreator of matters and spirits in the universe. Therefore,in the composition of matter there must be God Particle for creation of mass. So long many people in the world have believed that science nullifies the existence of God . Now with the discovery of God Particle in experimental science the same people should believe that science confirms the existence of God.

  8. Bimal Kr Ray says:

    Recently I have come across, with the immense possibilities, of the future discoveries, of the eternal- expanding universe.
    About two things I am in a puzzle, as discovered by greatest scientist of the past and present, everything in this universe are sum total of probabilities or possibilities nothing is unique.
    Our estimate of intelligence as per ranking of knowledge is the mathematics. For a simple man like me so far mathematical puzzles, equations and theories are concerned of our limitation is within the periphery of either addition or subtraction, that is our limit. Whatever way we want to express, the complicacy of mathematics, at the end it comes to addition and subtraction only. So far this is good.
    Now probabilities according to latest theories of physics- relativity or quantum-there should not be existence of unique, anything in the universe as per imagination of mankind, being a living identity only compare to vast universe.
    So I am puzzled why the “Earth our planet under the kingdom of glowing Star that is Sun, should be the unique example of life and its blooming civilization” ? under the infinite universe with millions of stars, nebulas, and galaxies why there should be only one insignificant planet like Earth should have life !, this cannot be accepted logically, under the mathematical exposures of the futurity of the universe.
    This is a puzzle for all, but question remains that the ultimate Mass now under search in this planet so far known millionth or trillionth of an centimeter with the definition of Higgs Boson, Quartz, Photon and so on. What we understand the atomic structure so far known to our scientific world is comparable with solar system, but we do not know yet the structure of Higgs Boson, Quartz even of Photon. If energy and matter have the same source of origin or in other way are not different in any way then waves and smallest tiny material object should have the same structure. Why not we should think the smallest particle as all named it after God, as “God particle” should not have the same structure of solar systems or atoms systems or its replication ? Our imagination of mankind has a limitation but still limitation is a matter of time and who knows in the course of time the structural change of human imagination of thinking and knowledge should not be different. What we see all the heavenly bodies are moving eternally under the forces known or unknown existing over the universe -now consider if everything is moving the force estimated for anything we imagine for the sake of science, how it can be true, because in a moving universe everything is apparent and illusion, so all our mathematical estimation of scientific theories are simply apparent and beyond our limitation of knowledge. If I call it illusion then it may not be over saying, we are running after illusion to find truth and reality which on the first sense is apparent or illusion. I am expressing myself like a fool as Einstein came into conclusion there are two infinite things in this world, one is universe, another is mankind’s stupidity – further Einstein added, he is not sure, only about universe ! Please whoever comes across this jigsaw puzzle, excuse me for my stupidity.