THE SEARCH for a so-called “God particle”, the Higgs boson, which would explain why there is any substance to anything, could be nearing its end. A massive £2.37-billion Large Hadron Collider, at Europe’s particle physics laboratory in Cern, near Geneva, is about to be sealed, before beginning its search for the ultimate particle.
The data it produces will take time to study, but scientists expect to see evidence of the Higgs boson for the first time since it was formed, one millionth of a second after the universe began. Last weekend, the public was allowed its only glance at the underground caverns of the collider.
If found, the particle would explain why light photons do not have mass, but other particles do. The particle is believed to have existed only at the energy level that was reached just after the Big Bang. The Cern collider, an atom-smashing device, will reach the same energy level for the first time since then. It has been called “a Genesis machine”, which will reveal more about the origins of the universe.
Massive superconducting magnets, which will accelerate the particle streams around 17.5 miles
of otherwise empty space, up to 175 metres under the surface of the earth, will be chilled to -271.3ºC. It will be the coldest place in the universe. Scientists have had to repudiate speculation that the collider could form black holes, which could suck the Earth into them.
Peter Higgs, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Edinburgh, now aged 78, first proposed the existence of the particle in 1964. He hopes to be vindicated.
Dr Lewis Ryder, a physicist at the University of Kent, who was supervised by Professor Higgs, said on Wednesday that if the machine did not find the particle, physicists had no idea how to explain why things had mass, but light did not.
“We know that the W and Z bosons have mass, and Higgs theory explains why. But, if they do not have mass because of the Higgs boson, then none of us have the slightest idea why they do, and photons do not. It’s back to the drawing board for all of us. It is urgent. But nature will have the last word: sometimes it agrees with us, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Despite the hype, Dr Ryder, who plays the organ in a church in Canterbury, did not think people’s view of God would change. “It will help our understanding of sub-atomic particles be more complete. God isn’t involved in any way at any stage, unless you take the view that God is always involved in a general sort of way. The separation between physics and theology remains complete.”