After a quest spanning nearly half a century, physicists yesterday said they had found a new subatomic particle consistent with the elusive Higgs boson, which is believed to confer mass.
Rousing cheers and a standing ovation erupted at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) after scientists presented astonishing new data in their search for the mysterious particle.
Many hailed it as a moment in history, and white-haired veterans of the quest shed tears of joy.
The new find is “consistent with [the] long-sought Higgs boson,” CERN declared in a statement.
“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer said.
He and others cautioned, though, that further work was needed to identify what exactly had been found.
“As a layman, I would say: ‘We have it.’ But as a scientist, I have to say: ‘What do we have?’” Heuer told a press conference. “We have discovered a boson, and now we have to determine what kind of boson it is.”
Peter Higgs, a shy, soft-spoken British physicist who in 1964 published the conceptual groundwork for the particle and whose name became associated with it, expressed his delight.
Finding the Higgs would validate the Standard Model, a theory that identifies the building blocks for matter and the particles that convey fundamental forces.
It is a hugely successful theory, but has several gaps, the biggest of which is why some particles have mass, but others do not.
Mooted by Higgs and several others, the boson is believed to exist in a treacly, invisible, ubiquitous field created by the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.
When some particles encounter the Higgs, they slow down and acquire mass, according to the theory. Others, such as particles of light, encounter no obstacle.
At a particle-physics conference in Melbourne, Australia, a participant said there was a “jaw-dropping” moment when the scientists reacted to the announcement.
Scientists began to pore over what the find could mean.
“[The Higgs] has been anticipated for more than four decades and were it not there, theorists all over the world would have been back to their drawing boards in desperation,” Anthony Thomas at the University of Adelaide in Australia said.