CHICAGO (AFP) – Physicists have come closer to finding the elusive “God Particle,” which they hope could one day explain why particles have mass, the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory announced Friday.
Researchers at the Fermilab have managed to shrink the territory where the elusive Higgs Boson particle is expected to be found — a discovery placing the American research institute ahead of its European rival in the race to discover one of the biggest prizes in physics.
Physicists have long puzzled over how particles acquire mass.
In 1964, a British physicist, Peter Higgs, came up with this idea: there must exist a background field that would act rather like treacle.
Particles passing through it would acquire mass by being dragged through a mediator, which theoreticians dubbed the Higgs Boson.
The standard quip about the Higgs is that it is the “God Particle” — it is everywhere but remains frustratingly elusive.
Confirming the Higgs would fill a huge gap in the so-called Standard Model, the theory that summarizes our present knowledge of particles. Over the years, scientists have whittled down the ranges of mass that the Higgs is likely to have.
Physicists were hopeful that the particle could be found with Europe’s Big Bang atom-smasher, the Large Hadron Collider.
But the Collider was shut down just days after it was turned on in September 2008 at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) below the Franco-Swiss border.
It is not scheduled to be turned back on until September of this year, while researchers at the rival Fermilab have cranked up their efforts to discover the Higgs.
Researchers at CERN had already determined that the Higgs must weigh more than 114 GeV/c2, Femilab said in a press release.
Calculations of quantum effects involving the Higgs Boson require its mass to be less than 185 GeV/c2.
Using Fermilab’s Tevatron collider, researchers were able to “carve out a section in the middle of this range and establish that it cannot have a mass in between 160 and 170 GeV/c2.”
They did this by combing the efforts of two major research groups that have analyzed three inverse femtobarns of collision data — the scientific unit that scientists use to count the number of collisions.
Each experiment expects to receive a total of about 10 inverse femtobarns by the end of 2010.
“A particle collision at the Tevatron collider can produce a Higgs boson in many different ways, and the Higgs particle can then decay into various particles,” said Fermilab researcher Rob Roser.
“Each experiment examines more and more possibilities. Combining all of them, we hope to see a first hint of the Higgs particle.”