- (Photo: CERN)
Scientists in Switzerland announced on July 4 that they had finally made remarkable progress in their search for the Higgs Boson particle, a particle physicists believe holds the answer to how the universe came into being.
Some have suggested that the "God particle," as it is also called, could put an end to arguments supporting creationism, while others insist the hunt to prove the Big Bang theory actually complements the biblical account.
Here are some facts about the 40-year project and what its most recent "discovery" may mean.
WHAT'S THE FUSS AND ALL THE EXCITEMENT ABOUT?
Two teams of scientists in Geneva announced last week that their Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest particle accelerator of its kind, had led to observation of evidence of a new subatomic particle, a boson, that appears to match the Higgs Boson or "God particle." The project, going on for years, is funded by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which also fronted a $10 billion bill for the LHC.
"We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature," CERN Director General Rolf Heuer said in a statement. "The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle's properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe."
Here is a video from The Associated Press on the announcement of the "discovery" of a likely candidate for the Higgs Boson:
WHAT IS THE HIGGS-BOSON PARTICLE?
The Higgs Boson particle is related to the Standard Model (SM) theory of particle physics and got its name from Peter Higgs, a Scottish scientist who helped in 1964 to develop the theory. A boson is a particular kind of subatomic particle that allows other particles to acquire mass. The SM describes how elementary constituents of the universe operate and interact. Particles related to the SM have all been identified — save for the Higgs Boson ... possibly until now.
The theory is centered on the idea that there is an invisible field (called the Higgs field) enveloping the entire universe and that a boson, as it moves through this field, picks up mass (clusters of other particles). Some common analogies used in the media to explain this idea include an image of someone (i.e., the Higgs boson) walking across a field of snow (i.e., the Higgs field) and accumulating snow and added weight on his boots (i.e., mass); another is to consider a swimmer moving through a pool; or, a popular person at a party attracting a following as she moves through the room.
Bottom line: Without the Higgs Boson particle, scientists theorize, life as we know it would not exist; identification of the Higgs Boson particle would essentially prove that the Standard Model is correct, which might then also provide other answers for similar questions — such as why certain forms of matter have differing sizes and shapes; the millions spent on the Large Hadron Collider would be justified; and CERN scientists might earn a Nobel Prize.
WHY IS IT SOMETIMES CALLED THE 'GOD PARTICLE'?
One explanation is that the term "God particle" arose as the media began reporting on the work of scientists looking for the elusive Higgs Boson, making it a pop culture reference. Some claim the name fits, as this particular particle is believed to be the building block of all life.
However, "God particle" is reportedly a term physicists avoid using, as it appears contradictory to their work. Peter Higgs, an atheist and for whom the particle is named, said in 2008 that he felt the term might be offensive to some. "I find it embarrassing because, though I'm not a believer myself, I think it is the kind of misuse of terminology which I think might offend some people," he said at the time.
Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman, an Illinois physicist, is credited with introducing the term "God particle," although he admitted that he originally referred to the Higgs Boson particle as the "goddam particle" due to the expense and challenges involved in looking for it. Writing in his 1993 book, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, Lederman reveals:
"This boson is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive, that I have given it a nickname: the God Particle. Why God Particle? Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to another book, a much older one ..."
The much older book Lederman notes is the Bible and its account in Genesis 11:1-9 of the Tower of Babel, which he re-interprets:
"And the whole universe was of many languages, and of many speeches. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Waxahachie, and they dwelt there. And they said to one another, Go to, let us build a Giant Collider, whose collisions may reach back to the beginning of time. And they had superconducting magnets for bending, and protons had they for smashing."
"And the Lord came down to see the accelerator, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold the people are un-confounding my confounding. And the Lord sighed and said. Go to, let us go down, and there give them the God Particle so that they may see how beautiful is the universe I have made."
— The Very New Testament, 11:1
WILL THE HIGGS BOSON "DISCOVERY" KILL RELIGION?
That has been the hope of some, while others have suggested that those with faith in God should not be shaken by developments coming out of CERN. The Huffington Post explores the possibility, while the BBC published a brief discussion on this debate, featuring composer Sonny Williamson and Professor Peter Atkins of Cambridge University:
HOW SOME CHRISTIANS HAVE RESPONDED