Physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have announced the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson. For the non-science-experts among us, that sentence may not make much sense, but it's a pretty big deal: the Higgs boson is also known as the "God particle" (more on the name right after George's Pink Floyd reference below) - the particle that gives all other particles mass - and it could help scientists solve the mystery of how the universe was formed.
Scientist Peter Higgs came up with the idea of the God particle in 1964, but until now, the existence of the particle was purely theoretical. Since then, physicists around the world have searched for evidence of the Higgs boson, including two professors at the University of Toronto, Bob Orr and Richard Teuschler, who helped build the ATLAS sensor that detects subatomic particles within the LHC. U of T was also central to the task of analyzing the data: the SciNet supercomputer, housed at the University, has been looking over the massive amount of data from the LHC for the past year.
So what is the Higgs boson? Explaining the concept is a little complicated, but the Guardian's Ian Sample has attempted a simple breakdown of the God particle using advanced science equipment (a bag of sugar, some lunch trays, and a bunch of ping pong balls). You can watch his explanation below:
If you're still not sure what the fuss is about, Rediff News is offering this 'Dummies' Guide to the 'God Particle'. It offers a general overview of the history and meaning of the Higgs boson.
Of course, some people are having a little fun with the discovery. The Borowitz Report website has an "exclusive interview" with the Higgs boson particle. Here's the opening question and response (click here for the full interview):
Q: First of all - and I have to ask this - "God particle?" Really? Who started that?
A: I have gotten so much shit for that! (laughs) I don't know where that started. Probably TMZ or somewhere! Look, if people want to call me that because they like what I do... well, I'm humbled. It's cool to know that what you do makes people happy. I love my fans. But God particle? I don't think so! I can't even get my iPhone to sync. (laughs)
Meanwhile, God himself (or whoever is behind the Twitter account @Lord_G_Almighty) has weighed in:
Considering restarting Earth. #Higgs— God † (@Lord_G_Almighty) July 4, 2012
Here are some other amusing Tweets about the discovery:
"Higgs Bozos" - NY Post Science Headline— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) July 3, 2012
Why didn't they let Danny Glover announce the "Higgs" part of the whole Higgs boson thing? #toooldforthissigma— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) July 4, 2012
"Are You There God Particle? It's Me, Average Person That Doesn't Understand You"— Steve Murray (@NPsteve) July 4, 2012
From comedian @AlbertBrooks comes a weighty ellipsis:
BREAKING NEWS: There is a God.........particle.— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) July 4, 2012
Although the media is fond of referring to the Higgs boson as the "God particle", a name that comes from Leon Lederman's popular book about particle physics 'The God Particle: If The Universe Is The Answer, What Is The Question?', not all physicists are happy with the term. Some experts say the name overstates the importance of the Higgs boson, since its discovery won't answer all the important questions scientists have.
When asked about the particle's nickname, Lederman said he coined it because the particle is "so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive". He also joked that it was because "the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing". Peter Higgs, the man who posited the Higgs boson in the first place, is an atheist who worries that the name might offend religious people.
To see some of the scientists who made the discovery discussing their find, you can watch the press conference announcing the discovery at CERN right here.
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