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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 built in a 27-kilometer (17-mile) underground tunnel.

Outside CERN, the announcement seemed to ricochet around the world with some of the speed and energy of the particle itself.

Marc Sher, a professor of physics at William & Mary College, said most observers concluded in December that the Higgs boson would soon be found, 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 by laymen, not physicists, as an easier way of explaining how the theory got started.

Incandela said the last undiscovered piece of the standard model 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.

“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 the 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.”