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Eureka! Physicists celebrate evidence of particle
Higgs, who was invited to be in the audience, said Wednesday’s discovery appears to be close to what he predicted.
“It is an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime,” he said, calling the discovery a huge achievement for the proton-smashing collider.
Outside CERN, the announcement seemed to ricochet around the world with some of the speed and energy of the particle itself.
In an interview with the BBC, the world’s most famous physicist, Stephen Hawking, said Higgs deserved the Nobel Prize. Hawking said he had placed a wager with another scientist that the Higgs boson would never be found.
“It seems I have just lost $100,” he said.
Marc Sher, a professor of physics at William & Mary College, said most observers concluded in December that the Higgs boson would soon be discovered, but he was “still somewhat stunned by the results.”
The phrase “God particle” was coined by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman, but it’s used mostly by laymen as an easier way of explaining the theory.
Wednesday’s celebration was mainly for researchers who explore the deepest, most esoteric levels of particle science. But the particle-hunting effort has paid off in other ways for non-scientists, including contributing to the development of the World Wide Web.
CERN scientists used the early Web to exchange information, and the vast computing power needed to crunch all of the data produced by the atom smasher also boosted development of cloud computing, which is now making its way into mainstream services.
Advances in solar energy, medical imaging and proton therapy used in the fight against cancer have also resulted from the work of particle physicists at CERN and elsewhere.
The last undiscovered piece of the standard model of physics could be a variant of the Higgs that was predicted or something else that entirely changes the way scientists think about how matter is formed, Incandela said.
“This boson is a very profound thing we have found,” he said. “We’re reaching into the fabric of the universe in a way we never have done before. We’ve kind of completed one particle’s story. … Now we’re way out on the edge of exploration.”
The discovery is so fundamental to the laws of nature, Incandela said, that it could spawn a new era of technology and development in the same way that Newton’s laws of gravity led to basic equations of mechanics that made the industrial revolution possible.
“This is so far out on a limb, I have no idea where it will be applied,” he added. “We’re talking about something we have no idea what the implications are and may not be directly applied for centuries.”
By John R. Bolton
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