CERN scientists nearly positive on 'God particle' discovery

Atom smasher wraps up first 3 years with discovery and a puzzle

Wrapping up the Large Hadron Collider's first three years of work, scientists are nearly positive they've found the elusive Higgs boson, also known as the "God particle."

Scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, said they are well beyond the regular threshold for verifying the discovery. Last summer, CERN researchers announced the discovery of a new particle and that early indications pointed to it being the Higgs boson, which has such great mystery and scientific importance that it has been dubbed the God particle.

"The signal is so strong, the probability of having it wrong is as low as the chance of flipping a coin 40 times and getting 40 heads in a row," said Sara Bolognesi, a CERN fellow, in a statement. She added that the certainty that they've found the Higgs boson has only been reinforced.

However, there is something puzzling about the particle's measurements that scientists have been taking. Researchers have found the particle decays in two slightly different ways, a discrepancy that could be blamed simply on a "statistical fluctuation" in their measurements. More tests are planned.

The Higgs boson is a theoretical sub-atomic particle that is considered to be the reason that everything has mass. Basically, without mass -- without the Higgs boson -- there would be no structure, no weight, to anything, so there would be no trees, no people, no plants, no stars.

For at least four decades, scientists have hunted for the particle, which has become a cornerstone of physics theory.

The CERN also noted a milestone reached on Tuesday by the Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle accelerator in the world.

The accelerator, which includes a 17-mile underground loop on the border of France and Switzerland, achieved a new level of efficiency, halving the space between the proton beams that are sped through the machine.

Monday's proton collisions marked the accelerator's three-year anniversary.

"High intensity beams are vital for the success of the [collider] program. More intense beams mean more collisions and a better chance of observing rare phenomena," said Steve Myers, a CERN director. "The [collider's] performance has exceeded all expectations over the last three years."

At the beginning of 2013, the Large Hadron Collider will focus on smashing protons with lead ions before going into a long shutdown for maintenance until the end of 2014. Scientists expect to resume work with the collider in 2015.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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Tags hardwareEmerging TechnologiesCERNhardware systems

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