The search for the elusive Higgs Boson particle, also known as the ‘God particle’ has entered a new phase as scientists working at CERN claim they are closer than ever to spotting it. As Brian Vastag and Joel Achenbach reported :

It was a big day for a very small particle that, when all was said and done, remained invisible, indeed still theoretical. But even if scientists couldn’t claim Tuesday that they had “discovered” the fabled Higgs boson, they were exultant, convinced that their experiments at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva are zeroing in on a particle believed to be essential to the fabric of the universe.

“We know the goal is close,” said Fabiola Gianotti, a physicist representing one of two competing CERN teams searching for the elusive particle. “This is the nicest feeling.”

Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), said another year’s worth of data needs to be compiled before anyone can reach “a definitive answer on the Shakespearean question on the Higgs: To be or not to be?”

But the scientists in Geneva were leaning in one direction Tuesday: It will eventually be. The new results suggest that something roughly 125 times the mass of a proton is being created by collisions at the LHC. It’s not definitive, and that finding could prove to be a statistical fluke — hence the cautious words by the top scientists.

The Higgs is the most sought-after particle in physics, but no one’s ever seen one, even indirectly. Elaborate theories — the orthodoxies of modern particle physics — hang in the balance.

Scientists on two teams associated with CERN have claimed to narrow down the window in which a possible Higgs Boson particle could exist, and hope to determine its existence or nonexistence within the next year. As AP explained :

Both of the research teams are involved with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva. CERN oversees the $10-billion Large Hadron Collider under the Swiss-French border, a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel where high energy beams of protons are sent crashing into each other at incredible speeds.

Fabiola Gianotti, an Italian physicist who heads the team running the so-called ATLAS experiment, said “the hottest region” is in lower energy ranges of the collider. She said there are indications of the Higgs’ existence and that with enough data it could be unambiguously discovered or ruled out next year.

Several mass or energy ranges within the atom smasher are now excluded to a “95 percent confidence level,” Gianotti told other physicists at CERN.

Afterward, Guido Tonelli, lead physicist for the team running what’s called the CMS experiment, outlined findings similar to those of the ATLAS team, saying the particle is most likely found “in the low mass region” of the collider.

Rolf Heuer, director of the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, said in conclusion that “the window for the Higgs mass gets smaller and smaller.”

What does the Higgs boson mean for technology? As Hayley Tsukayama reported:

Scientists in Europe announced Tuesday morning that they have found evidence that the elusive “God particle,” the Higgs boson, actually exists.

The scientists have stopped short of claiming discovery, but in a press conference livestreamed from the European research institute CERN, they said that they’re getting close to finding it.

And what, exactly is it? According to Scientific American’s Kelly Oakes, the Higgs boson is the smallest part of the Higgs field, which physicists believe gives all matter the property of mass. Translated and oversimplified, that means that nothing would have weight without the Higgs field. For academics, finding the particle would complete a puzzle about the universe that’s been bugging them for decades.

What does Tuesday’s announcement mean for technology?

Honestly, very little, said University of Maryland physics department chairman Drew Baden. It is “merely a look-see as to where the experiments are in looking for new particles, not seen since the first trillionth of a second after the big bang,” he said.

But Baden said that the technology that CERN developed for its research has spun off other valuable advances.

“Much of the progress in accelerators comes out of this kind of basic research,” he said in an e-mail, pointing to technology used in food radiation and cancer therapy. People are now working on laser-powered accelerators, he said, and future applications of that work could create sci-fi-like particle beams.

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