Science, Tech & Environment

Physicists anxiously await 'God particle' announcement from CERN


Researchers built the Large Hadron Collider to help locate the Higgs boson particle. (Photo by CERN via Flickr CC.)

Physicists and science-fiction geeks around the the world are waiting in anticipation for an announcement early Wednesday morning U.S. time from scientists in Switzerland on what they hope will be a confirmation of the so-called "God particle."

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In December, scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced that they had found hints about the existence of the elusive particle.

Officially known as the Higgs boson, the particle has become the cornerstone of modern physics because of its theoretical ability to endow other particles with mass. Researchers at CERN have made the search for it their top priority.

Eager observers think the scientists' work may have finally paid off. That CERN invited the five living founders of the Higgs theory to the Wednesday news conference only heightened their expectations, according to the New York Times.

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku is among the many people who are awaiting to hear what CERN scientists have to announce. Like many, he remains anxiously optimistic. Failing to find the Higgs boson would be a “catastrophe” for quantum physics, he says.

"If the particle is not discovered, we physicists are going to have a heart attack," Kaku said. "Our entire foundation of subatomic particle physics is based on the Higgs boson."

The particle is key to explaining several fundamental questions about the nature of the universe: Where does matter come from? Why does it have mass? And what triggered the big bang that scientists say created the universe 13.7 billion years ago?

Researchers designed the $10 billion CERN research facility with the hope of answering those questions and more. With a 27-mile circumference, its Large Hadron Collider is the largest particle accelerator in the world.

By smashing protons into one another at near lightspeed inside the collider, scientists can recreate some of the initial conditions present during the big bang. Their hope is to spot the Higgs boson in the fragments created from those collisions.

Kaku says its discovery would be the culmination of a dream that goes back 30 years.

"So far we've been able to catalog hundreds of subatomic particles and put them together into a gigantic jigsaw puzzle," Kaku said. "But there's one missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and that's the Higg boson."