National Geographic News science reporter Ker Than interviewed SMU physicist Ryszard Stroynowski about the historic discovery of the new fundamental particle necessary for scientists to explain how matter acquires mass.
The National Geographic article, ““God Particle” Found? “Historic Milestone” From Higgs Boson Hunters,” published July 4.
SMU physicist Stroynowski is a principal investigator in the search for the Higgs boson, and the leader of SMU’s team in the Department of Physics that is working on the experiment.
The experimental physics group at SMU has been involved since 1994 and is a major contributor to the research, the heart of which is the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator on the border with Switzerland and France.
The discovery results, which are preliminary, were announced July 4 at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, Switzerland, and at the International Conference of High Energy Physics in Melbourne, Australia. CERN is the headquarters for the LHC lab, which is a collaborative experiment involving thousands of scientists worldwide.
By Ker Than
“I think we have it. You agree?”
Speaking to a packed audience Wednesday morning in Geneva, CERN director general Rolf Heuer confirmed that two separate teams working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are more than 99 percent certain they’ve discovered the Higgs boson, aka the God particle—or at the least a brand-new particle exactly where they expected the Higgs to be.
The long-sought particle may complete the standard model of physics by explaining why objects in our universe have mass—and in so doing, why galaxies, planets, and even humans have any right to exist.
“We have a discovery,” Heuer said at the seminar. “We have observed a new particle consistent with a Higgs boson.”
At the meeting were four theorists who helped develop the Higgs theory in the 1960s, including Peter Higgs himself, who could be seen wiping away tears as the announcement was made.
Although preliminary, the results show a so-called five-sigma of significance, which means that there is only a one in a million chance that the Higgs-like signal the teams observed is a statistical fluke.
“It’s a tremendous and exciting time,” said physicist Michael Tuts, who works with the ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus) Experiment, one of the two Higgs-seeking LHC projects.
The Columbia University physicist had organized a wee-hours gathering of physicists and students in the U.S. to watch the announcement, which took place at 9 a.m., Geneva time.
“This is the payoff. This is what you do it for.”
The two LHC teams searching for the Higgs—the other being the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) project—did so independently. Neither one knew what the other would present this morning.
“It was interesting that the competing experiment essentially had the same result,” said physicist Ryszard Stroynowski, an ATLAS team member based at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It provides additional confirmation.”
CERN head Heuer called today’s announcement a “historic milestone” but cautioned that much work lies ahead as physicists attempt to confirm the newfound particle’s identity and further probe its properties.
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