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Science News: The Nobelist Particle

Discovery of the Higgs Boson confirms origin of mass, clinches Nobel Prize


Higgs Boson finds its place in the Standard Model. Source: MissMJ via Wikimedia Commons

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On Oct. 8, 2013, Britain's Peter Higgs and Francois Englert of Belgium won the Nobel Prize for physics on for "the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider."

The Theory

Fifty years ago, scientists Robert Brout, François Englert and Peter Higgs theorized a mechanism, the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism, to explain how mass is gained by known bosons (the tiniest of particles). When these particles come in contact with an invisible field, now called the “Higgs field,” they “collect” mass and acquire weight. If it weren’t for this vital mass collection, the building blocks of our universe would not be able to form and we would not exist. If scientists could “capture” a physical and visible manifestation of this field in the form of a particle, the theory would become part of the Standard Model—and scientific fact.

Something Small

On July 4, 2012, CERN announced the first direct evidence for the existence of a particle "consistent" with the Higgs boson. Using the massive Large Hadron Collider (LHCa), 17-mile-long looped track located an average of 300 feet beneath the Swiss-French border, experimenters accelerated two beams of particles to 7 tera electron volts (TeV) and then smashed them together. After hundreds of scientist sifted through the data from thousands of sub-atomic collisions, a teeny tiny star was born. The particle that had been imagined by theorists and eluded the scientists had at last been found in the form of a tiny boson whose significance far exceeds its physical stature: ". . .something small that makes all the difference," said Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Nobelist of Particles

Research since then has only solidified the little particle’s place in the universe. The ultimate accolade and affirmation came on Oct. 8, 2013, when Drs. Englert and Higgs were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Also named in the award were the experiments conducted at CERN, an appropriate nod to the hundreds of scientist who worked to make this happen, by a committee that typically recognizes those proposing the theories, rather than those carrying out the experiments. The discovery of the Higgs Boson was a team effort and—especially by scientific standards—an unqualified success.

—Catherine McNiff

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