For atom smashers, the fun is just starting

The “God particle.” Atom smashers. The Big Bang. Kim Kardashian, eat your heart out.

The “God particle.” Atom smashers. The Big Bang.

Kim Kardashian, eat your heart out.

Today, the water cooler chatter is all about theoretical and particle physicists, of all unlikely pop icons. And Peter Higgs, an 83-year-old Scots scientist, in particular.

After much feverish speculation physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research have lit up the world of science by chasing down one of the universe’s most elusive building blocks, the “Higgs boson” that holds a key to creation as we know it.

Dubbed “the God particle,” (as well as the “goddamn particle” because it was so hard to find), it has long been a Holy Grail to what’s known as the Standard Model of physics, our best guess at how the universe works.

Until now it has been a theoretical particle. No longer.

The organization’s director Rolf Heuer confirmed Wednesday that “we have observed a new particle that is consistent with a Higgs boson.”

That’s science-speak for “Break out the bubbly, we’ve found the little bugger” after smashing trillions of hapless protons together in the Large Hadron Collider, and scouring the wreckage for bosons.

Did the researchers witness God’s handiwork in a “Higgs-like” particle’s flash? Who can say for sure? They still have worlds of dark matter, dark energy, supersymmetry, antimatter and gravity to explore.

The Great Architect may yet have a few surprises up her sleeve.

But by replicating the first moment of the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago, scientists believe they have finally created, identified and tracked a Higgs boson, first postulated by Higgs and others nearly a half century ago to explain how matter came to have mass.

Once the Big Bang occurred, so the theory went, it quickly produced our universe — full of particles that had no mass, and radiation energy. A short trillionth of a second later a “Higgs field” appeared, with the Higgs boson, its own quantum particle.

The field functioned like a cosmic field of snow. When other particles such as quarks and electrons passed through it they gained mass. They slowed down and eventually formed the atoms that comprise the world that is us.

The Higgs boson was the smallest and most elusive particle in the mix.

It has taken a lifetime to find something that looks for all the world like the Higgs boson, but we’re closer now to grasping how the Big Bang’s big mess became the whirl of galaxies that we see today.

Whole new vistas of science beckon. As Sean Carroll, a California Institute of Technology physicist puts it, “the fun has just begun.”

From the Toronto Star.