The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, has recreated the conditions of the Big Bang and found the so-called “God particle.”
The deceptive name was popularized by author Leon Lederman. He says it was chosen 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.”
The scientific designation is the Higgs boson (particle). It’s named after physicist Peter Higgs, who is an atheist.
The Higgs boson is the elementary particle of the Higgs field, an omnipresent quantum field that gives particles mass and thereby substance to the universe.
CERN conducted two different experiments, CMS and ATLAS. Both showed signs of the particle with a certainty of 5 sigma, which is the gold standard in physics. It means there’s just a 1 in 3.5 million chance of a false positive. The overall results were 4.9 sigma but that was good enough for Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director general of CERN.
“As a layman I now say, I think we have it,” Heuer announced to an auditorium full of scientists, who applauded in agreement.
Nevertheless, they can only say for sure that they’ve found a Higgs-like particle because it decays too quickly to observe directly.
Rob Roser, who leads American version of CERN called Fermilab, compares the discovery to finding the fossilized imprint of a dinosaur: “You see the footprints and the shadow of the object, but you don’t actually see it.”
In fact, the particle has such a short lifespan that Higgs says it has no practical application.
While speaking at Edinburgh University, Higgs explained:
It’s probably about a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second. I don’t know how you apply that to anything useful. It’s hard enough with particles which have longer life times for decay to make them useful. Some of the ones which have life times of only maybe a millionth of a second or so are used in medical applications. How you could have an application of this thing which is very short lived, I have no idea.
Ironically, the only real world effect of the mass generating particle is that it’s made Stephen Hawking’s wallet lighter.
“I had a bet with Gordon Kane (of the University of Michigan) that the Higgs particle wouldn’t be found,” Hawking told BBC News on Wednesday. “It seems I have just lost $100.”