Global grid helps CERN find 'God particle'

Scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced that they have observed a particle that might turn out to be the long-sought Higgs boson, or "God particle," thought to be part of the explanation for why matter has mass. And a worldwide network of computers played a key role in the discovery.

The particle is the heaviest boson ever found. If it is indeed the Higgs boson, it would give scientists a more complete understanding of the nature of the universe.

Scientists will have a clearer picture later this year after the Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle accelerator in the world, provides more data. "We now have more than double the data we had last year," said Sergio Bertolucci, CERN's director of research and computing, in a statement. "That should be enough to see whether the trends we were seeing in the 2011 data are still there."

CERN's 17-mile-long collider generates hundreds of millions of particle collisions each second. Recording, storing and analyzing these collisions represents a massive challenge; the collider produces roughly 20 million gigabytes of data each year.

CERN stores that data partly on the premises in Geneva, but has to distribute roughly 80% to data centers all around the world through the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid.

That network is key to CERN's research, said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, CERN's director general. "Without the worldwide grid," he said, "this result would not have happened."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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