/ 26 July 2011

Mystery ‘creation’ particle still evades scientists

The mysterious “creation” particle believed to have turned flying debris into stars and planets at the dawn of the universe has evaded capture in a year of hot pursuit, physicists said on Monday.

Rolf Heuer, director-general of the Cern research centre near Geneva, said he was now looking to 2012 to turn up traces of the particle, the Higgs Boson, and signs of other concepts that were once the preserve of science fiction.

Confirming that intensive scrutiny of the results of more than 70-million particle collisions in Cern’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) had not yet identified the Higgs, Heuer said: “I hope the big discoveries will come next year.”

He was speaking at an international conference of physicists in the French city of Grenoble, at which presentations of the results of research in the LHC, deep under the border between Switzerland and France, were a key highlight.

Other Cern scientists at the gathering, parts of which were being streamed live over the internet, reported that they had spotted strange “fluctuations” in the data gathered from the mega-velocity collisions staged in the oval-shaped LHC.

But they cautioned that these could simply be misreadings or passing phenomena that will be explained later. They said it was important to avoid “discovering” the Higgs before it was found, as one researcher had done earlier this year.

Matter into mass
The Higgs is named after British physicist Peter Higgs who said three decades back that it was the agent that turned the matter spewed out by the Big Bang 13.7-billion years ago into the mass that became the material of the known cosmos.

Some scientists worry that it may not exist at all, or not in the form suggested by Higgs and two Belgian researchers who came up with the idea at the same time in the late 1970s.

“One way or another, it or something like it has to be there, otherwise we wouldn’t be here,” Heuer told reporters in 2008, just before LHC’s first, aborted, $10-billion start-up. It resumed operations successfully in March 2010.

Discovery of the Higgs would complete the essential elements of the so-called Standard Model of physics that emerged from the work of Albert Einstein and his successors early in the 20th century, and cleared the way for “New Physics”.

This domain would include super-symmetry, the underpinning of string theory and the idea of parallel universes, dark matter or the hidden stuff of the cosmos, and the dark energy that is believed to be driving galaxies apart.

The vast volumes of information gathered so far from the LHC particle collisions, each effectively recreating the Big Bang and what came just after, “provide sound bases for the discoveries to come”, Heuer told Cern staff at the weekend.

“Our field of physics, which focuses on rare phenomena, requires [a huge volume of] statistics,” he said.

So definitive answers on the Higgs or signals pointing to what were once the wilder shores of speculation could still be a while away. – Reuters