Physicists have already discovered 12 of nature’s building blocks. Now, after a 50 year search, the most elusive one may be at hand: the Higgs boson. But if the so-called God particle is indeed discovered, will it mean the end of physics?
It’s about time. For decades, Peter Higgs has been sitting — and waiting — in his apartment in an old building in Edinburgh near historic Moray Place. His name has appeared in the newspaper many times during this long period of time.
There were often reports that someone might have uncovered the famous particle that bears his name. But they all proved to be false alarms. This time, though, it looks as though it could indeed be the real thing. Last Tuesday, the CERN research center near Geneva held a seminar on advances in the search for the so-called Higgs boson.
Rarely had the mood been so tense in the facility at the base of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland. The offices were empty, the laboratories were closed and the cafeteria was abandoned. Everyone was crowded into the lecture hall.
Private guards had to be hired to barricade the two entrances because so many researchers wanted to attend the seminar after the news came out. But it is also an ambivalent piece of news. On the one hand, there are new developments in the search for the Higgs particle, and it is possible that it was sighted, with a weight of about 125 hydrogen atoms. On the other hand, there is no solid evidence that this was the case — only clues. “Very interesting clues,” however, as CERN Director General Rolf Heuer insisted again and again. The signal is still very blurry, says Siegfried Bethke, director of the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich. The Atlas experiment in which Bethke is involved has generated millions of gigabytes this year. How easy is it to read something that isn’t even there into this jumble of data?