When scientists convinced European politicians to invest $10 billion in the 17 mile circumference Large Hadron Collider, they said that discovering the Higg’s Particle was one of their main goals. This elusive particle was predicted by Scottish physicist Peter Higgs, but never proved, and has become an important part of many theories in physics; its existence, if proved, would solidify a lot of theoretical work. So sought is it, that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman called it a “God Particle” — much to the chagrin and continual annoyance to fellow scientists, after the public picked up that name — and others have likewise used religious terms, calling it “the holy grail” of particle physics. The discovery of the particle confirms the Standard Physics Model, and explains how particles have mass. This Wednesday, the Hadron research team announced that they have discovered it.
Physics uses a careful system that refuses to consider a thing discovered unless it meets a certain degree of probability. After all, why say you’ve discovered something or haven’t when $10 billion dollars in research grants are at stake? There are levels of certainty a physics team is able to demonstrate. For this discovery, scientists wanted to show that there is less than 1 in 1.7 million chances that they are mistaken. They announced on Wednesday that their work counts as a “discovery” with a “Sigma 5″ level of assurance, which means they are 99.999% sure.
Having such assurance, is important, for after all, we can’t see the Higgs boson. To get at it, scientists have to smash particles together at incredible rates. The bulky 17 mile collider gets these particles at the trajectory necessary to crash them. The desired particle exists for a mere microsecond before it decays, but its existence is monitored by devices that can confirm that it did for an instant exist.
The Higgs boson “gets at the center, for some physicists, of why the universe is here in the first place,” said Fermilab theorist Joseph Lykken. Having secured the existence of the Higgs boson will assure scientists that their theories are moving in the right direction, and give them support for further discoveries.