World waits for revelation of 'God particle' by Cern today

 

HISTORY WILL be made this morning on the French/Swiss border, as most of us are munching cornflakes or struggling to work through the rush hour.

Scientists at Cern, the European centre for nuclear research, are expected to announce the discovery of the Higgs boson – what people can’t resist calling the “God particle”.

And while its announcement won’t stop the cornflakes going soggy or make the traffic go faster, the final discovery of Higgs will rank as one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time.

It helps explain why we have something instead of nothing, given that we would have nothing – no gravity, no mass, no life – without it.

As a result the atmosphere in Cern has been electric in anticipation of today’s announcement, said Dr Ronan McNulty, a senior lecturer in University College Dublin’s school of physics who also leads an experimental research group at Cern.

“There is a great air of expectation and certain optimism, and everybody is talking about it,” he said.

Some lingering doubt remains about what a special scientific conference at Cern will hear at 8am Irish time. Will they declare the Higgs discovered or only say that they believe they are close?

Indications on the ground suggest that the Higgs has indeed been found, Dr McNulty believes.

For one thing the particle’s namesake, Peter Higgs, and his colleagues, who first developed the theories behind it have been brought to the meeting.

For another, the science community at Cern knows the experiments are getting very close to “5 sigma”. This is a statistical term meaning it would be a three million to one long shot that the experimental evidence was just a fluke, like tossing a coin and getting heads 20 times in a row.

“I think they are going to announce a discovery all right. I think there is enough evidence to call it a discovery,” Dr McNulty said. “This is magnificent. To predict such a particle was amazing. To find it was extraordinary.”

He is not exaggerating. For one thing it required the building of the world’s largest and most powerful atom smasher, a giant 27km-long underground ring costing €4 billion. Giant magnets were used to send atomic particles spinning round the ring, almost at the speed of light, before smashing them together at colossal energies.

It is there among the debris that the Higgs, or something very like the Higgs, has been found.

“It is both the missing piece of the jigsaw which describes our fundamental understanding of the universe and it is the window into the essence of what the science is,” said Dr McNulty.

It will be a mad scramble for scientists at Cern hoping to gain a coveted place in the 300-seater auditorium where all will finally be revealed.