A graphic showing traces of collision of particles at the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experience at the CERN. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

There has been no shortage of complicated stories in the news this year. The debate over the debt ceiling forced us to ponder the minutia of our tax code; Europe’s debt crisis made us consider the annals of currency policy. Even understanding Facebook’s privacy policy or the details of NFL and NBA lockouts required an understanding of a thorny set of rules and regulations.

But no story has been more of a head-scratcher than that of the Higgs boson, the name for a theoretical particle that physicists at CERN said they have come closer to discovering.

As Brian Vastag and Joel Achenbach report, “Confirmation of the Higgs boson would solve the mystery of why matter has the property that physicists call mass — the resistance to being shoved around. If the Higgs is declared non-existent, on the other hand, there would be a gaping hole in physicists’ explanation of nature’s deepest structure.”

Scientists have speculated about the particle’s existence since theorist Peter Higgs first predicted its existence in 1964, but proof has been a long time coming. The latest announcement offered hope to scientists at the announcement — who broke out into a loud and sustained applause — but the physicists working on the project said no definite conclusions could be drawn yet.

While it may be the most perplexing story of the year, the Higgs particle is by no means the the only major scientific advance in 2011. What are the others? Check out the photo gallery below:

View Photo Gallery: These events and discoveries make up the key stories in the field of physics this year.

Here’s coverage from the Post’s Brian Vastag and Joel Achenbach of each of these key stories:

Scientists hone in on Higgs Boson

The God particle and Tim Tebow

Particles faster than light: A revolution or a mistake?

The ultimate brain teaser for physicists

Three U.S.-born physicists win Nobel prizes

Shuttle mission includes launch of a physics experiment

Shutdown of Tevatron ends era of big physics in the U.S.