We may not have found God particle after all, admits Hadron chief
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Tuesday 26 July 2011
Fevered speculation about the discovery of the so-called "God particle" by physicists at Europe's underground atom-smasher experiment is premature, according to the director general of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) near Geneva.
Professor Rolf Heuer said yesterday that his scientists had detected "intriguing fluctuations" in the data gathered by Cern's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is searching for the elusive Higgs boson, a subatomic particle predicted by Professor Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University in the 1960s but so far never detected.
Professor Heuer cautioned that the data fluctuations detected by Cern scientists may turn out to have nothing to do with the Higgs boson and could even be random statistical "noise" generated when beams of protons are crashed together within the LHC at velocities just short of the speed of light.
The Higgs, mischievously nicknamed the "God particle" by one physicist, is predicted to confer mass to other sub-atomic particles and matter. If it exists, the LHC – a 27km circular tunnel that straddles the Swiss-French border – is powerful enough to detect it, but researchers have first to eliminate any random fluctuations that could interfere with their observations, which is why they are urging caution about these early results.
"Don't expect too much too quickly," Professor Heuer said at an international meeting of physicists in Grenoble to review the LHC's first few months of gathering data. "You have to be careful about combining small numbers because you can easily be fooled.
"I hope the first big discovery will come next year, namely the discovery of the Higgs boson. I have learned in life to be patient, something will come," he said.
It is still possible that the particle does not actually exist, but that would mean physicists would have to abandon the Standard Model, their fundamental theory of how the many different subatomic particles interact with one another.
Two experiments attached to the LHC, called Atlas and CMS, are both detecting interesting fluctuations in the "low mass" region of energy levels where the Higgs could exist, according to Professor Heuer. However, so far the evidence is still equivocal and is unlikely to be strong enough to confirm or refute the existence of the Higgs until the end of 2012.
"I think towards the end of next year we'll have the answer. The Higgs is not like any other subatomic particle. The difference is that with the Higgs we know everything about it, but whether it exists," Professor Heuer said.
"[Its discovery] will come slowly. In the meantime you will hear what I can only call rumours, but slowly the right signal will be creeping up, and we need to see it creeping up in both experiments," he said. "We are really living in exciting times for particle physics. To a large extent it's due to the LHC. It's working really well, beyond my expectations.
"Now it's bringing us into unchartered territory. We are still missing the Higgs boson, the key particle of the Standard Model. If we find it, the Standard Model is complete, and if we don't find it, then the Standard Model has a problem," Professor Heuer said. "If we fail to find the Higgs, the Standard Model is no longer valid as we know it today."
Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...
£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...