The Edge of Physics
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|Rick Pantaleo||July 22nd 2012|
Tired, and rushing to meet a looming deadline, Dr. Pierre Savard and his colleagues didn’t realize what they’d found when they first came across a particle that looked a lot like the long-sought-after Higgs boson.
But it didn’t take long for them to realize their hard work had paid off. “When we looked at it, we kind of saw it,” Savard says. “It was unbelievable.” The University of Toronto professor belongs to ATLAS, one of two teams tasked with finding whether the mystery subatomic particle – which is believed to give all objects mass - actually exists. The team’s excitement about finding the new particle grew when it discovered the second team, CMS, had found virtually the same thing.
“It’s a big thing. Essentially, it’s as if we discovered a new fundamental force of nature,” Savard says. “So we know about, for instance, electromagnetism, electricity and magnetism. We know about gravity… but now we’ve found something new and it also plays a key role in our current theory for how we understand how matter interacts with particles and forces. It’s a big deal.”
Despite helping to find the most sought-after particle in modern science, Savard actually hopes the new discovery is not the Higgs boson. “Many of us are hoping that it’s not exactly the particle that’s predicted by our theory, that it may be something close,” he says. Since problems have been found with their current theory, if the mystery particle doesn’t turn out to be Higgs boson, Savard hopes the new particle offers hints as to “what’s out there.”
“The ‘Standard Model’ of particle physics explains a lot, but there’s a lot that it does not explain,” Savard says.
Some suggest there might be more than one Higgs boson and that the same theories contained within the Standard Model, could also explain dark matter or dark matter particles. Dark matter particles are a type of matter which cannot be seen directly but are believed to make up a great part of the total mass in the universe.Even if the find is the Higgs boson, “there are still some big questions out there,” says Dr. Savard. One problem Savard sees with the Standard Model is that it doesn’t explain the asymmetry between matter and antimatter. “In our colliders, we produce essentially equal amounts of matter and antimatter but the universe is made up matter and the Standard Model really doesn’t explain why there’s such an asymmetry,” he says.
He’d also like to see more research devoted to exploring dark matter, which he says is “probably carried by a particle that we don’t’ know about.”
With the mysteries of matter, antimatter and dark matter lurking, Savard says the Standard Model explains only about a fraction of the universe. That’s why he hopes new phenomena will be found with the LHC – the world’s largest atom smasher – which would help unlock these many mysteries of the universe.
Rick Pantaleo writes for VOA, from where this article is adapted.