Higgs boson discovery at CERN
Posted on 04/07/2012
John Ellis, Professor of Theoretical Physics at King’s, has today joined his colleagues in CERN as they reveal compelling evidence that they have discovered a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson.
Scientists believe they have captured the elusive particle that gives matter mass and holds the physical fabric of the Universe together. Professor Ellis said: ‘We have something that looks like a discovery – we’ve discovered something that looks like the Higgs boson.’
Detailing their preliminary findings today, scientists said they have a 5 sigma result, on the scale that particle physicists use to describe the certainty of a discovery, which means they are 99.999% sure they have found a new particle. CMS (Compact Muon Spectrometer) experiment spokesperson, Joe Incandela said: ‘This is indeed a new particle.’
King’s alumnus and Fellow, Professor Peter Higgs FRS, first proposed the ‘Higgs boson’ particle in 1964. Researchers have since been carrying out the world’s largest experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, where they have been smashing atoms together at almost the speed of light and scouring the debris for traces of particles that sprang into existence for just a fraction of a second before disintegrating.
The Higgs is the cornerstone of the Standard Model – the most successful theory yet to explain the particles, forces and interactions that make up the Universe. Most scientists believe that the Standard Model is a stepping stone to a further, more complete, theory which explains phenomena such as dark matter and dark energy. The discovery of the Higgs potentially offers the final piece to the jigsaw.
According to the theory, all of the particles in the newborn Universe were massless and hurtled around at the speed of light. But one trillionth of a second after the big bang, the Higgs field switched on, turning the vacuum of space into a kind of cosmic glue. The LHC has re-created the vital seconds after the birth of the Universe in a bid to unearth the Higgs particle.
Professor Higgs said: ‘I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge.’ He congratulated the LHC teams, saying the results were, ‘a testament to the expertise of the researchers.’
Prime Minister David Cameron said: 'This is a great breakthrough, one that could be profoundly significant to our understanding of the universe and the fundamental laws that govern it. And let's not forget that this discovery started right here in Britain. The man behind the theory, Peter Higgs, was born and bred in Newcastle.'
The discovery of the Higgs particle ranks as one of the most important scientific advances of the past 100 years. It proves there is an invisible energy field that pervades the vacuum of the known Universe. This field is thought to give mass to the smallest building blocks of matter, the quarks and electrons that make up atoms. Without the field, or something like it, there would be no planets, stars, or life as we know it.
In 2009 King's awarded Peter Higgs an honorary doctorate. He was guest of honour at John Ellis’s ‘From Maxwell to Higgs’ lecture at King’s on 24 March and he will give the first Higgs lecture of the School of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at King's on 10 December.
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