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Eureka! 'God particle' proof found

GENEVA -- To cheers and standing ovations, scientists at the world's biggest atom smasher claimed the discovery of a new subatomic particle Wednesday, calling it “consistent” with the long-sought Higgs boson — popularly known as the “God particle” — that helps explain what gives all matter in the universe size and shape.

“We have now found the missing cornerstone of particle physics,” Rolf Heuer, director of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), told scientists.

He said the newly discovered subatomic particle is a boson, but he stopped just shy of claiming outright that it is the Higgs boson itself — an extremely fine distinction.

“As a layman, I think we did it,” he told the elated crowd. “We have a discovery. We have observed a new particle that is consistent with a Higgs boson.”

The Higgs boson, which until now has been a theoretical particle, is seen as the key to understanding why matter has mass, which combines with gravity to give an object weight. The idea is much like gravity and Isaac Newton's discovery of it: Gravity was there all the time before Newton explained it. But now scientists have seen something very much like the Higgs boson and can put that knowledge to further use.

CERN's atom smasher, the US$10 billion Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border, has been creating high-energy collisions of protons to investigate dark matter, antimatter and the creation of the Universe, which many theorize occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.

Two independent teams at CERN said Wednesday they have both “observed” a new subatomic particle — a boson. Heuer called it “most probably a Higgs boson, but we have to find out what kind of Higgs boson it is.”

Asked whether the find is a discovery, Heuer answered, “As a layman, I think we have it. But as a scientist, I have to say, “'What do we have?'”

The two CERN laboratories, working independently of each other to avoid bias, found the new particle in the mass region of around 125-126 Gigaelectronvolts (GeV), according to data they presented on Wednesday.

The leaders of the two CERN teams — Joe Incandela, head of CMS with 2,100 scientists, and Fabiola Gianotti, head of ATLAS with 3,000 scientists — each presented in complicated scientific terms what was essentially extremely strong evidence of a new particle.

Both said that the results were “five sigma,” meaning there was just a 0.00006 percent chance that what the two laboratories found is a mathematical quirk.

“The results are preliminary but the five sigma signal at around 125 GeV we're seeing is dramatic,” said Joe Incandela, spokesman for one of the two experiments.

Incandela said it was too soon to say definitively whether it is the “standard model” Higgs that Scottish physicist Peter Higgs and others predicted in the 1960s — part of a standard model theory of physics involving an energy field where particles interact with a key particle, the Higgs boson.

“The” Higgs or “a” Higgs — that was the question Wednesday.

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This May 25, 2011 photo shows a graphic tracing of proton-proton collision events measured by the European Organization for Nuclear Research. (AFP/AP)



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