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Higgs boson search may be on brink of breakthrough

Higgs boson search may be on brink of breakthrough

Posting in Energy

The elusive Higgs boson has long existed in theory, not in experiments. But three recent data sets that roughly agree could lead to its discovery.

There's no proof it exists, and yet we know its mass.

That's the biggest joke about the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle in the world of physics that physicists theorize gives other elementary particles mass. (Its own mass is thought to be in the neighborhood of 125 million electron volts, which are the units of mass or energy used in particle physics.)

But a pattern in new data, collected over the last several years by physicists at the Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., may show that the elusive particle does indeed exist.

But "may" is the operative word. More data could also negate the effect seen in the latest data.

The results were presented Wednesday by Wade Fisher of Michigan State University to a physics conference in La Thuile, Italy.

Why it's significant

Still, this newest data is significant, because it comes, for the first time, with some backup: It roughly agrees with results released in December by two independent research groups at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest particle accelerator at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, outside Geneva. (Particle accelerators such as the Tevatron and the LHC study "the smallest known particles, the fundamental building blocks of all things," as CERN says on its Web site.)

This is the first time that different groups searching for the Higgs boson have ever agreed.

From what we know now, these new patterns in both sets of data from both Tevatron and LHC indicate that the Higgs does exist, though the existing data is not itself enough to prove its existence. "But," The New York Times reports, "the recent run of reports has encouraged them to think that the elusive particle, which is the key to mass and diversity in the universe, is within sight, perhaps as soon as this summer."

The report states, "Based on the current Tevatron data and results compiled through December 2011 by other experiments, this is the strongest hint of the existence of a Higgs boson."

What the latest data says about Higgs boson

Although the Higgs boson has never been observed, it should explain how three of the four fundamental forces of nature work. Until last December, what had never been predicted was its mass.

But then, two groups that run particle detectors at at CERN reported finding "bumps" of data showing masses between 124 and 126 billion electron volts. For comparison, a proton is a billion electron volts and an electron is a half million.

The lastest finding at Fermilab shows a broad hump in their data between 115 billion and 135 billion electron volts. "The chances of this signal being the result of a random fluctuation in the data were only about 1 in 100, the group said," The Times reports.

In April, the Hadron collider, which is currently on winter break, will start up again and should, this year, gather enough data to conclusively confirm or deny the existence of the Higgs boson.

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photo: The Tevatron accelerator's main ring at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. (Reidar Hahn/Fermilab)

via: The New York Times, Fermilab

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure