Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have indicated that they may have made the first step towards discovering the mysterious Higgs boson, otherwise known as the "God particle."
The researchers, who have been trying to unlock the mystery over the origin of particle mass, said on Monday the Higgs boson still remained elusive after more than 70 million particle collisions in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
The discovery was made when physicists at the centre detected unusual bumps in the 120 and 140GeV (gigaelectronvolts) spectrum. The scientists quickly noted that the bump could indicate the existence of the ellusive particle, which is thought to exist between the 114 and 185GeV spectrum.
The physicists, who came tantalizingly close to finding the God particle, or the creation particle, now expect they could crack the mystery in experiments by the end of 2012.
"I hope the big discoveries will come next year, said Rolf Heuer, director-general of the CERN research centre, at a physicists' conference in Grenoble, France. "I would say we can settle the question, the Shakespearean question — ‘to be or not to be’ — end of next year."
The research was carried out at the custom-built 18-mile tunnel on the French Swiss-border by the Atlas and CMS research teams. The tunnel was built to allow researchers to search for new physics particles and behaviours by slamming subatomic particles together at near light-speed.
CERN stressed that while it was too early to know whether the signals were due to the missing particle, it does mark the latest step to solving the mystery.
"We cannot say anything today, but clearly, it's intriguing," said Atlas spokeswoman Fabiola Gianotti.
At the same time, researchers have been analyzing data from the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermilab near Chicago, Ill., turning up their own indications of the particle.
The hints seen at the Tevatron -- Fermilabs' particle accelerator -- are weaker than those reported at the LHC, but occur in the same "search region".
If scientists find the Higgs boson, it will prove that the Standard Model, which has been a cornerstone of particle physics for decades, is correct. The standard model says that the Higgs boson is the reason that some particles -- and the atoms of which they are made -- have any mass at all, and why photons do not.
No experiment has directly observed the Higgs boson yet. The Higgs boson is called the God particle after the title of a book by American physicist Leon Lederman, in part becuase it would help unify several branches of physics by proving the Standard Model.