In many ways, Higgs boson is to particle physics what the Holy Grail is to Christianity. Science’s modern-day Knight Templars are working tirelessly at two massive labs to unravel the mystery shrouding the all-important particle and explain away some major inconsistencies in the Standard Model of particle physics.
The 40-year search for the God particle is tantalizingly close to the end. Scientists last week reported that results of atom-smashing at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN facility in Europe hinted at the existence of the Higgs boson, which is also known as the creation particle.
It will be months before the data is fully analyzed. The CERN chief said scientists are hoping for a breakthrough in the search in about 18 months.
Meanwhile, the only other facility in the world that works on finding the Higgs boson, the Tevatron particle accelerator at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, has reported that its scientists have made significant advances in the hunt for Higgs boson.
Scientists at Fermilab have been able to narrow the range in which the Higgs particle seems to be hiding with the help of data generated from the atom smashing experiments at the Tevatron, it said.
It said the CDF and DZero experiments now can exclude the existence of a Higgs particle in the 100-108 and the 156-177 GeV/c2 mass ranges. It also pointed out that the European experiments have led to the exclusion of Higgs particle with a mass of about 150 to 450 GeV/c2, confirming the Tevatron exclusion range.
"This leaves a narrow window for the Higgs particle, and the Tevatron experiments are on track to collect enough data by the end of September 2011 to close this window if the Higgs particle does not exist," Fermilabs said.
That means the two premier labs in the world are on track to unravel the hiding particle. "I hope the big discoveries will come next year ... I would say we can settle the question, the Shakespearean question — ‘to be or not to be’ — by the end of next year," said Rolf Heuer, director-general of the CERN research centre.
Physicists working at the LHC at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have said they could trace some unusual results that possibly hinted at the existence of the missing God particle, when streams of protons were fired through the LHC particle accelerator.
Still, it's too early to confirm the existence of the particle -- and scientists say they can't rule out the possibility that the fluctuations were a misreading of the data or some passing phenomena.
Scientists at the Tevatron particle accelerator share the same thought. “To have confidence in having found the Higgs particle that theory predicts, you need to analyze the various ways it interacts with other particles,” said Giovanni Punzi, co-spokesperson of the CDF experiment. “If there really is a Higgs boson hiding in this region, you should be able to find its decay into a bottom-anti-bottom pair. Otherwise, the result could be a statistical fluctuation, or some different particle lurking in your data,” he added.
For modern science hunting its holy grail, a lot is at stake. Higgs boson is the lynchpin of the modern particle physics theory called the Standard Model. The discovery of Higgs boson will, first and foremost, help scientists answer long-held questions like what is the source of mass and why some particles have mass and others don't have. It is the particle that is deemed to be giving mass to other particles. The secret behind the particles, or matter, having mass or not having it is hidden inside the Higgs boson.
It will also help scientists throw light on the "supersymmetric particles" and thereby throw light on the investigation into the make-up of dark matter.
A lot of mysteries shrouding the beginning of the universe are locked in the Higgs boson. If it isn't found, scientists will have to change the Standard Model postulation through which they explained how sub-atomic particles interacted with each other. If the Higgs boson is ruled out, another explanation for how particles get their mass will be needed.
Higgs boson, the sub-atomic particle fundamental to the understanding the nature of matter, was first hypothesized in 1964 by Edinburgh University physicist Peter Higgs. The Standard Model theory built the framework in modern times for the understanding of the way the universe, with the help of the Higgs boson hypothesis. It offered the notional structure of the nature of matter and how the universe came into being.
The term "God particle" became popular when Nobel-prize winning physicist Leon Lederman published his 1993 book "The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?" The undiscovered particle is alluded to divinity in popular parlance, by virtue of its being elusive. However, the scientific community has been bemused with the coinage, and says it could have been termed differently, like "important particle," for example.
However, the big questions are, if it does exist, after all and when physicists will finally be able to ascertain its existence. As Heuer puts it, it is the "to be or not to be" question for particle physics. Physicists in search of cryptic clues that hide the instructions for the cosmic recipe will cheer the discovery of the Higgs boson. It is the one potent missing link that could throw light into how life as we know it today emerged out of the all-encompassing stardust resulting from the Big Bang billions of years ago.