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Is the hunt for the Higgs almost over?

European physicists will make an announcement tomorrow that may solve a decades-old puzzle about the nature of matter.

Written by Agencies | Paris | Published: July 3, 2012 9:59:37 pm

European physicists will make an announcement tomorrow that may solve a decades-old puzzle about the nature of matter,leave the question only part-answered or serve up yet another mystery.

In a profession driven by rationality,particle scientists gave full rein to their emotions as they pondered what could lie in store in Geneva.

It is there that the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) will unveil the latest data in its search for the Higgs boson,an elusive sub-atomic particle that is

believed to confer mass.

The Higgs has led scientists a merry dance since 1964,when British physicist Peter Higgs helped lay the conceptual foundation for it.

If the beast exists,it would vindicate the so-called Standard Model of physics,which identifies the building blocks for matter and the particles that convey fundamental

forces.

On the eve of the announcement,rumours flew about what CERN had in store. On Twitter,a conversational thread was called “Higgsteria,” and managed to fuel speculation and quash it at the same time.

“Whether or not the Higgs has been found,tomorrow will be exciting,” Professor Sir Peter Knight,president of Britain’s Institute of Physics,told AFP.

“If the Standard Model is confirmed via the discovery of the Higgs boson or whether we need to abandon and start re-writing the textbooks,it’s a historical day in science

that we should all be proud of.”

A big question concerns the degree of probability to make a claim.

CERN physicists have said they will not make an announcement until they have proof — from two laboratories working independently at the mighty Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — that the risk of a statistical fluke is vanishingly small.

In scientific parlance,the goal is “five sigma,” meaning that there is just a 0.00006 per cent chance that what the two laboratories found is a mathematical quirk.

In a news report,the British science journal Nature said CERN will announce that the two labs saw signals of a new particle with a probability of between 4.5 and five sigma.

But CERN will stop short of calling it the Higgs until more is known about what the particle does,Nature said.

“Crucially,they will want to know whether it behaves like a mass-giving Higgs,and more specifically whether it behaves like the Higgs predicted in the Standard Model,” the journal said.

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