Posted at 02:46 PM ET, 04/25/2011

Higgs boson: A history of the ‘God particle’


The world's largest superconducting solenoid magnet at the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s Large Hadron Collider. (By Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
A leaked memo has sparked new rumors about the discovery of the so-called “God particle,” which refers to the hypothetical smallest building block of life called Higgs boson.

The memo, which appears to be an internal document from the Large Hadron Collider, was posted by Columbia University mathematician Peter Woit on his blog Not Even Wrong and suggests that scientists have seen the “first definitive observation of physics beyond the standard model.”

“This is either a hoax, or something that will disappear on further analysis,” Woit writes. “But, since spreading well-sourced rumors is more or less in the mission statement of this blog, I think I’ll promote this to its own posting.”

The memo supposedly comes from the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator located at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva. It conducts tests that could lead to the discovery of the God particle. The Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago is conducting similar tests.

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” gave CNN a rundown of the particle and the consequences of such a discovery this month:

The term “God particle” can be traced back to Nobel prize winner Leon Lederman’s book “The God Particle: If the universe is the answer, what is the question?” The book was reviewed by Robert L. Park in a 1993 Book World:

Lederman takes the non-scientist along on the 2,500-year quest for the ultimate building blocks of the universe, beginning with the Greek philosopher Democritus, who first postulated the existence of an indivisible particle. Discovery of the Higgs boson, Lederman believes, may be the final adventure in this long journey. He aims to persuade us that, having come so far and with the shore in sight, turning back is unthinkable. Alas, to reach this point, the vicarious traveler must first overcome Lederman's style and his book's dreadful title.

That “dreadful title” may have caught on in the public, but many physicists dislike it. Peter Higgs himself told the Guardian that he “hates” the name. The paper held a contest to rename the particle.

The Large Hadron Collider became operational in 2008, but suffered a set-back shortly thereafter. It restarted in April 2009 and will run through 2012 before shutting down for additional improvements. Since its opening, rumors of the God Particle’s discovery have occasionally popped up, including one in 2010 started by an Italian physicist who claimed that the God particle had been discovered at Fermilab’s Tevatron.

This latest case will probably suffer the same fate. Nothing about the rumored discovery at the Large Hadron Collider has been confirmed, and will probably not be, according to a spokesperson. “It’s way, way too early to say if there’s anything in it or not,” CERN spokesman James Gillies told Wired. “The vast majority of these notes get knocked down before they ever see the light of day.”

By  |  02:46 PM ET, 04/25/2011

 
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