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Culture

European scientists discover new particle that may be Higgs boson

media A graphic showing traces of collision of particles at the Compact Muon … AFP/ Fabrice Coffrini

Physicists at the European nuclear research centre, Cern, have found a new particle which is probably the long-sought Higgs boson and promise that “our understanding of the universe is about to change”.

Cern’s Atlas and CMS experiments presented their latest results in Switzerland on Wednesday morning and announced “strong indications for the presence of a new particle, which could be the Higgs boson”, which is believed to confer mass.

Searching for Higgs boson
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"We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature," Cern director general Rolf Heuer said. "The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle's properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe."

At a seminar in Geneva, the spokesperson for one of the experiments, Joe Incandela, excitedly announced “we have observed a new boson”, adding that more information is necessary before formally declaring that it is the Higgs.

Scientists have been trying to prove the particle exists for nearly half a century, hoping to validate the Standard Model, a theory which identifies the building blocks for matter and the particles that convey fundamental forces but has so far failed to explain why some particles have mass and others not.

Mooted by British physicist Peter Higgs in 1964, the boson is believed to exist in a treacly, invisible, ubiquitous field created by the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago.

When some particles encounter the Higgs, they slow down and acquire mass, according to theory. Others, such as particles of light, encounter no obstacle.

Higgs, who is now 83, ordered Champagne on hearing the news.

"For me it's a really incredible thing that it's happened in my lifetime," he said, congratulating everyone involved in what he described as a "tremendous achievement".

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