Particle Physicists Report 'Intriguing Hints' of Higgs Boson

Long-sought particle not conclusively detected yet, but researchers may have found its hiding place.

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However, all researchers emphasized that at this point there is still a chance that previously discovered particles, or background noise, may be responsible for their signals. Each group emphasized they found a relatively small number of interesting events in the mass ranges that they reported. Statistically, there are several chances in a thousand that the results are a fluke. More collision events can reduce these odds to the point that the researchers can reasonably conclude that they have discovered signs of the actual particle.

Named after Peter Higgs, one of the theorists who postulated it in 1964, the Higgs boson would prevent a breakdown of the Standard Model of particle physics. One of the most successful theories in the history of science, the Standard Model describes three fundamental forces — electromagnetism, the weak and strong nuclear forces — as well as the menagerie of known particles in the universe, from quarks and electrons to photons and neutrinos. Without the Higgs, the model would be unable to explain important differences between the forces and why some particles have mass and others are massless.

However physicists would view a conclusive detection of the Higgs as the beginning, and not the end, of an era of discovery. Just as Einstein's general theory of relativity incorporated all the predictions of Newton's original theory of gravity but enabled predictions of new things such as black holes, the Standard Model, fortified by a Higgs boson that has been proven to exist could lead to more advanced theories, as well as new physics.

"We do not know where its further careful study will lead," wrote Sundrum. "We are just at the beginning of the journey."

The larger theory known as supersymmetry calls for the existence of "superpartner" particles that would accompany all known particles. String theory, an even more elaborate description of nature, says the fundamental building blocks of the cosmos are not particles such as electrons but that even electrons result from vibrating strings and other objects such as membranes that are far too small for current scientific instruments to detect.

Still, Sundrum cautions against reading too much into today's results. He said that the news does not rule out the possibility that the Higgs boson could actually be a class of particles. And they also don't validate new physics theories such as the supersymmetry model.

"The best evidence for supersymmetry would be detection of super-particles themselves," wrote Sundrum.

After today's announcement, physicists are reserving judgment, saying that the data is chiseling away the possibilities of where the Higgs may be located.

More collisions are likely to settle the question.

"There's nothing conclusive we can say right now," said Baden.  "If all goes well we will likely have a conclusive result by this time next year."