Particles collided, results undecided

Luke Henderson, Contributor Ω

A new particle has been discovered that could be the elusive Higgs boson scientists have been in search of for around 50 years, a Simon Fraser University physicist told TRU students.

Dugan O’Neil, who worked at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) where the particle was discovered, was the speaker at a seminar hosted by TRU’s science department Sept. 27.

The current particle physics model states all things are made of particles, but doesn’t explain why they have mass. One theory is particles gain mass by interacting with a theoretical particle called a Higgs boson.

The newly discovered particle could be that theoretical particle.

“We haven’t proved [it’s] the Higgs boson yet, but it’s not just a really cool new particle,” O’Neil said.

The particle was discovered during an experiment in the LHC, a 27-km long super structure buried 100 meters beneath the Swiss–French border. In the LHC, single particles were fired at each other at the speed of light where they collided inside the 7,000-ton ATLAS particle detector.

“Think of it as a 100 megapixel camera, with very fancy pixels taking 40 million pictures a second,” O’Neil said.

The scientists are monitoring for the particular Higgs boson reaction between the two colliding particles, which occurs once every second.

Other reactions are taking place at a billion times per second, which makes finding the reaction the scientists are interested in difficult. The immense amount of data is sorted out using computer algorithms.

“Now all we have to do is close our eyes and imagine [the data] in 10 dimensions” O’Neil said jokingly.

His audience was mostly science students and professors who eagerly listened.

Steve Sadler, a third-year TRU physics student, attended the talk. Sadler shared his excitement for this new discovery.

“People always say that everything in physics has been discovered,” he said. “Something new is happening.”

“There’s different opinions of the significance [of the findings],” said Mark Paetkau, a TRU physics professor who organized the event, “but it will help explain the universe.”

There could be practical applications to finding the Higgs boson decades in the future, O’Neil said.

“Those who invented lasers didn’t envision DVDs and scanners,” he said.

The researchers at the LHC are still working to confirm their findings.

“We’re preparing the experiment by November for analysis to rule out the Higgs boson,” O’Neil said.

The LHC was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and went fully operational in 2008. O’Neil told the audience Canada has contributed $70 million to the project so far.

The LHC also has a website where a live feed of the experiments in the LHC can be watched at http://lhc.web.cern.ch/lhc/

The talk was the first of a science seminar series being held on Thursdays at 12:30 in room S273 of the science building. The next seminar will feature Peter Mahaffy, a chemistry professor from King’s University College on Oct. 4.

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