Back-up copy until Wash Post archive copy can be located
Paris, Tuesday, September 19, 2000
Glimpse of 'God Particle' Reported
Atom-Smasher Upgrade on Hold as Physicists Pursue Object
By Curt Suplee Washington Post Service
WASHINGTON - Officials at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, the
giant European atom-smasher center outside Geneva, have decided to delay the
start of construction on the $6 billion Large Hadron Collider - to be the most
powerful particle accelerator ever built - because scientists there may
already have observed one of the phantom objects the new project was designed
to find. That entity is so important that a Nobel physics laureate, Leon
Lederman, calls it ''the God particle.'' It lies at the heart of one of the
most important mysteries of modern science: What mechanism in nature confers
the property of mass on all the stuff in the universe?
This month, officials of the laboratory - known as CERN, its
French-language acronynm - were scheduled to shut down the world's largest
accelerator. The 25-kilometer (16-mile) underground ring would then undergo a
five-year makeover that would turn it into the Large Hadron Collider.
At the top of the project's 10-most-wanted list is the discovery of the
so-far theoretical particle, which actually goes by the name of ''Higgs
boson'' or ''the Higgs'' for short.
Bosons are particles that carry forces, and the Higgs boson is thought to
be the force-bearer of the hypothetical Higgs field, a ubiquitous, invisible,
space-pervading nexus that gives everything in the cosmos its mass - in much
the same way that the photon carries the force of electric and magnetic
fields. Officials of the European laboratory call it ''the missing link,'' the
last component of the Standard Model - or consensus view of energy and matter
at the smallest scales - that has not yet been observed.
There may be several kinds of Higgs bosons, named for a University of
Edinburgh physicist, Peter Higgs, who first postulated a mass-conferring
field. In its most basic form, the Higgs has a large predicted mass of about
100 to 200 times that of the proton. To see a particle of that magnitude,
scientists had long assumed that they would need an accelerator much more
powerful than the European laboratory's 11-year-old Large Electron-Positron
Collider, or even the much stronger collider at Fermilab near Chicago.
In accelerators, particle collisions generate huge localized bursts of
energy. And energy is convertible into mass and vice versa. So the more energy
a collider can create, the more massive and plentiful the particles that
result when that energy congeals into matter. Hence the need for the Large
But then, a few weeks ago, word started getting around that
particle-hunters at the European laboratory might have sighted the Higgs at
the Large Electron-Positron Collider, which physicists had tweaked to energies
well beyond its original specifications.
On Thursday, the lab's director-general, Luciano Maiani, decided to extend
the experimental run of the accelerator until Nov. 2.
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