New York University physicists are part of a research team that has narrowed the search for the Higgs boson, a sub-atomic particle that is a building block of the universe. In an announcement made Dec. 13 in Geneva, scientists said they have found signs of its existence and narrowed the regions where the elusive particle could be.
"If these first hints evolve into a conclusive observation of the Higgs boson, it will be a triumph of human intellect and ingenuity," said NYU physicist Kyle Cranmer, one of the project's researchers.
The Higgs boson is named after physicist Peter Higgs, who theorized its existence more than 40 years ago as a way to explain why atoms have weight. Its discovery would provide fundamental insights into the origin of mass -- specifically, why some particles have mass -- and explain other scientific mysteries. It has been dubbed the "God Particle" because it is associated with an energy field that gives other particles their mass, or resistance.
For decades, physicists have been searching for the Higgs boson, the only particle of the Standard Model of Particle Physics that scientists have yet to detect. The Standard Model of Particle Physics describes the universe in terms of its fundamental particles and the forces between them.
In their search, physicists have employed the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located at the CERN laboratory near Geneva. LHC, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, has enough energy to detect the remaining mass range for the Higgs boson, with today's announcement revealing the collider's capabilities. By colliding high-energy beams in the centers of the LHC's particle detectors, scientists aim to make discoveries about the nature of the physical universe. The debris of the collisions reveals the nature of fundamental particle interactions and may also contain as-yet undiscovered particles.
"If this holds up, we will look back on this and realize that today was the day that the Higgs boson really first showed itself," said NYU physicist Neal Weiner. "We will now begin to test whether this particle looks quantitatively, not just qualitatively, like the Higgs boson. If there are differences, it will point us not just to the completion of the standard model, but possibly what comes next."
Scientists from NYU's Experimental High Energy Physics group are part of a world-wide collaboration to investigate the fundamental nature of matter and the basic forces that shape the universe. The collaboration, ATLAS, is based at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, that employs LHC.
"We have restricted the most likely mass region for the Higgs boson to 116-130 GeV, and over the last few weeks we have started to see an intriguing excess of events in the mass range around 125 GeV," explained ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti. "This excess may be due to a fluctuation, but it could also be something more interesting. We cannot conclude anything at this stage. We need more study and more data. Given the outstanding performance of the LHC this year, we will not need to wait long for enough data and can look forward to resolving this puzzle in 2012."
Members of the NYU team working on this project include Professors Andy Haas, Peter Nemethy, and Allen Mincer as well as Cranmer and researchers Diego Casadei, Hooft van Huysduynen, Rostislav Konoplich, Attila Krasznahorkay, Sven Kreiss, George Lewis, Christopher Musso, Ricardo Neves, Kirill Prokofiev, and Long Zhao.
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