By Emily Senger - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
Researchers at a conference in Italy say that there is increasing evidence that the…
Researchers at a conference in Italy say that there is increasing evidence that the Higgs boson, the “God particle” as it is sometimes known, has been discovered.
The Higgs boson is thought to be the particle that is the building block of the universe, the one that gives things mass, and scientists have been using the Large Hadron Collider to search for the elusive particle. They made an announcement in July 2012 saying that it had been found.
In science, everything must be tested and retested, so the two teams of scientists — ATLAS and CMS — have been sifting through data from Large Hadron Collider experiments and have continued their research, even after July. Continue…
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 7:10 AM - 0 Comments
Science’s big bet paid off when the ‘God particle’ was discovered courtesy of the monstrous Hadron Collider
For nearly five decades, scientists have been searching for a missing piece of the universe—one that’s infinitesimally small, incredibly elusive, yet explains why everything as we know it exists. On July 4, an announcement came from Geneva, where the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is based: a team of thousands, working on a massive underground particle accelerator called the Large Hadron Collider, had confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson. The “God particle” had been found.
Named for theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, who dreamed it up in 1964, the Higgs boson particle has long been the missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes the universe’s basic building blocks. It was Higgs’s answer to a question that had scientists stumped: where does mass come from? Mass gives shape to the universe, holding protons and neutrons together to make atoms, and then molecules, and then all of us. Higgs suggested particles obtain mass by passing through an invisible force field that stretches through the universe. “The [Higgs field] fills all of space,” says Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont. “It’s the medium in which we live,” and the Higgs boson particle is evidence of that field. Continue…
By Kate Lunau and Katie Engelhart - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
A special report from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland
For the past 22 years, Pierre Savard has, off and on, been searching for the Higgs boson particle. On the morning of July 4—shortly before physicists at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) were scheduled to present their historic findings—Savard, associate professor of experimental particle physics at the University of Toronto, awoke just outside Geneva, where CERN’s sprawling complex is nestled amidst lush vineyards, with the imposing peaks of Mont Blanc as backdrop. Buried 100 m underground is the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator, built at a cost of $10 billion to help physicists unravel the mysteries of the universe.
By the time Savard arose (somewhat sluggishly, as he’d been working on “Higgs analysis” until 2 a.m.), the facility’s main auditorium was already full. The summer students at CERN had camped out all night. Aysha Abdel-Aziz, a University of Toronto undergraduate working on Higgs search data analysis, was monitoring Facebook at 12.30 a.m., which flashed news of a swelling crowd. “At 1:30, I thought, man, I’ve got to get over there,” she recalls. “I got there at 2 a.m., and I’m glad I did. Because by 4 it was too late.” Students hunkered down outside the auditorium to wait with sleeping bags and food and cameras.
Around 4:30 a.m., says Abdel-Aziz, a cluster of grey-haired physicists showed up. Discouraged by the lineup, which by then had snaked down the stairs and wound around the hall, they left. Savard, meanwhile, made his way to the lobby of his laboratory, where the morning’s events were being live streamed. The four screening rooms were full, but he managed to hustle a chair. Displaced by their youthful proteges, the world’s most seasoned particle physicists were relegated to back rooms, packed like sardines into satellite auditoriums around the complex. Some grasped bottles of champagne. Soon they would, most uncharacteristically, be shouting.
By Jessica Allen - Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:18 AM - 0 Comments
This is going to change everything: find out why
Our savvy science writer also explains in layman’s terms what the Higgs boson is, why physicist Neil Turok, director of the Canadian Perimter Institute is thanking his lucky stars, and what’s in store for the Large Hadron Collider–the world’s biggest machine–now. Also, there’s a reference to Superman III, which doesn’t happen every day.
Read reporter Katie Engelhart’s dispatches from CERN in Geneva here and here. And find Lunau and Engelhart’s eight-page special report on why the Higgs boson discovery does more than just explain why we exist on newsstands now.
By Katie Engelhart - Monday, July 9, 2012 at 10:55 AM - 0 Comments
Hundreds of people, physics lovers and those that don’t know the difference between an electron and proton alike, are making the pilgrimage to Geneva
ON A RECENT MORNING at the airport in Geneva, a middle-aged North American man boards the bus that will take me to my hotel. “CERN. This goes to CERN?” The bus driver stares blankly. “CERN?” And shrugs. Not this bus.
A day after the long-awaited discovery of the Higgs boson was announced at CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research), pilgrimages to the ‘50s-era research site have already begun.
Later that morning, CERN’s main lobby swims with tourists. Visitors leaf through glossy brochures and browse a small gift shop, which sells slim volumes on particle physics and construction industry hard hats bearing the CERN logo.
In a few moments, my tour group gathers.
We are first ushered into a dark theatre to watch an introductory film. Those of us who have travelled to Geneva to bear witness to Higgs mania are quickly disappointed. The film was made in 2004 and is woefully outdated. Over ominous music and landscape shots of CERN’s sprawling research complex, a narrator speaks of an as-yet-to-be-discovered Higgs boson.
When the lights are switched on, Mohammed, our lanky tour guide, arrives to fetch us. He is dressed like many of CERN’s top researchers: in sneakers and a pastel blue t-shirt.
Onward, to the headquarters of ATLAS: one of the experiments that detected the boson. En route, two girls pause to take photos. Paean Sozoryoku, a 21-year-old physics student from Melbourne, has dragged her friend to Geneva’s outskirts to see the site: “to be inquisitive.” Her blue sundress flapping around her, she points—most inquisitively—to some equipment in the distance.
Her friend, who does not study physics, is less enthralled. Paean has had trouble explaining some basic concepts to her: “like, how do we know [the boson] exists if we can’t see it?”
Inside the main doors, we are separated from ATLAS’s “control room” by a single glass panel. We press our noses to the surface to watch a dozen or so graduate students at work. Computer screens flash lines of code and graphs. It is just as we imagined.
Breaking the silence, Edgar Valdez, a sturdily built American with a neatly shaved head, makes note of the building’s shabby facade. A philosophy teacher at Seton Hall University, Valdez is interested in the philosophy of science and math. Strictly speaking, he doesn’t philosophize about Higgs bosons; but he reads up about particle physics—when he is not busy teaching undergraduate classes on Locke, Hume and the like.
Next is a 3D video that chronicles, in excruciating detail, the difficulty of moving heavy machinery around the research site. And then a video game, which lets us take turns playing the role of a Large Hydron Collider (LHC) sensor.
Erik Hoogendorp, a 43-year-old artist from the Netherlands, doesn’t play along. He is too busy pressing Mohammed for more detailed information on “Z particles.” Tall and wearing the required uniform of the Euro artiste—plaid shirt and skinny jeans—Erik has travelled to Geneva to meet with a CERN physicist, with whom he hopes to collaborate on a physics-inspired art project. I peer at Erik’s iPhone, as he flips through images of his work: dotted representations of a tree, a sock. Erik says he wants his work to address “dark matter and the exotic stuff that touches the fantasy.”
On the way out, I bump into Caroline Walsh, an Irish woman who has just left a museum exhibit on the “History of the Universe.” A chemist, Caroline came to central Geneva for a UN conference on “the globally harmonized system of classification and labeling of chemicals.” She didn’t stick around.
“I skipped out of the UN early,” she whispers, with hyperbolic furtiveness. “Don’t tell my boss!”
Back in the lobby, the tourists disperse. Lazing about out on the couches, awaiting the next tour, is a high school physics group from King Edwards School in England. Henry Matthews, 17, tells me he plans to pursue “particle physics and cosmology” at university, and wants to be the scientist who discovers dark matter. If all that doesn’t work out, Henry hopes to become a music technician. (He sings backup and plays drums and guitar.) I ask him if he will write songs about dark matter. He looks bored; “I’ll write dark music.”
At reception, Marc, a calm Frenchman in charge of the information desk, confirms a spike in tourists following Wednesday’s big announcement. Weekend tours of CERN, he says, are now booked solid until early September.
But it’s not just the quantity of tourists that has changed, Marc adds. “There are tourists here now who… otherwise would not be here. In French, we would call them Monsieur et Madame tout le monde.”
With a curt nod, I rejoin the ranks of the Higgs-hunting Joe Shmoes.
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at 10:28 AM - 0 Comments
Scientists at the world’s biggest atom smasher have announced the discovery of a brand-new…
Scientists at the world’s biggest atom smasher have announced the discovery of a brand-new particle—and it looks an awful lot like the long-sought Higgs boson, also known as the “God particle,” without which the universe as we know it wouldn’t exist.
“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” Rolf Heuer, director of the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), told a crowd of scientists, to cheers and a standing ovation. The existence of this particle was confirmed in two separate experiments at the Large Hadron Collider—a massive underground particle accelerator that spans the border of France and Switzerland—and there’s less than a one-in-a-million chance that the data is a fluke. Peter Higgs, the Edinburgh-based physicist who theorized the existence of the Higgs boson, was there as the announcement was made, and wiped away a tear. The 83-year-old told the crowd: “It is an incredible thing that has happened in my lifetime.”
Higgs and other theorists first proposed the existence of the Higgs boson more than half a century ago to explain a mystery: Why do most elementary particles have mass? Without mass, as CERN notes, there would be no atoms; no chemistry; no biology—and certainly none of us. But the concept of mass has long been a sticking point in the Standard Model, which describes all known elementary particles, and how they interact.
To help explain it, physicists came up with the Higgs mechanism: an invisible field that stretches across space and gives mass to these particles. The Higgs boson particle is a manifestation of this, but of all the particles predicted by the Standard Model, it was the only one that hadn’t been observed. To search for the Higgs boson, the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider—called the world’s biggest science experiment—smashed protons together, recreating conditions that existed just after the Big Bang, when Higgs boson particles were theorized to exist.
This new particle looks startlingly like the Higgs boson—but what if it’s something even more strange and exotic? After all, just a measly four per cent of the entire universe is made up of matter we can see. The remaining 96 per cent is believed to be dark matter and dark energy, which we still know almost nothing about. As scientists learn more about this new subatomic particle—whether it’s a Higgs boson or something previously unimagined—it will open a new door on our understanding of the universe.
By Kate Lunau - Friday, February 17, 2012 at 4:42 PM - 0 Comments
Scientists promise new results on the God particle in the next few months
Kate Lunau is covering the 2012 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, a gathering of some of the world’s finest brains and celebrities of science. On Feb. 16-20, Lunau will bring you a sneak peak of the latest research and findings, posting to Macleans.ca on anything from healthcare and climate change, to food security, and more. Follow Kate on Twitter: @Katelunau, #AAAS, #AAASmtg.
The AAAS meeting began at the crack of 8 a.m. today, with seminars, symposiums and press briefings already competing for attention. One big announcement came not from Vancouver, but Geneva: World Health Organization officials agreed to extend a temporary moratorium on research into a lab-modified strain of the H5N1 flu virus, which will keep the controversial work secret for now. A morning meeting to talk about the decision had to compete with another star attraction: a briefing about the latest results from the Large Hadron Collider and Fermilab, which is where I ended up.