Teams of physicists closing in on the 'God particle'

Teams of physicists closing in on the 'God particle'


Physicists working on two separate experiments have combed the debris from several proton and anti-proton collisions for signs of the Higgs boson.

Its mass — in the units preferred by physicists — is not in the range between 158 billion and 175 billion electron volts, according to a talk by Ben Kilminster of Ohio State at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Paris.

And so the most intensive particle hunt in the history of physics goes on.

Over the last decade physicists working on two separate experiments at Fermilab have combed the debris from a thousand trillion (1 with 15 zeros) collisions of protons and anti-protons looking for signs of the Higgs boson, which is said to be responsible for imbuing some other elementary particles with mass. Rumors fanned by a blogger that the Higgs, dubbed the “God particle,” by former Fermilab director Leon Lederman in a book of the same name, had been detected reached all the way to Gawker last week and focused attention on the Paris conference, which also featured a speech by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

The new results, combining the data from two separate Fermi experiments, DZero and CDF, narrow the range in which the Higgs, if it exists, must be hiding. Physicists had previously concluded that it must lie somewhere between 115 billion and 200 billion electron volts. By comparison a proton, the anchor of ordinary matter, weighs in at about a billion electron volts.

A new competitor is about to enter the hunt. Physicists from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, the most powerful accelerator in the world, announced that their machine, which started operating at half power in March, with 3.5 trillion electron volt protons, had rediscovered all of particle physics, most recently the top quark, and thus the table was set for it begin to look for new physics as well as the Higgs. The new collider has registered about 1.5 billion collisions, but with more energy at its disposal it hopes to catch up to Fermilab in a year or so.

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