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article imageCERN scientists say they are closing in on the 'God particle'

By JohnThomas Didymus     Dec 9, 2011 in Science
Geneva - Amid rumors that physicists at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have detected the first signs of the elusive Higgs boson popularly called the "God particle," the organization has released a statement that researchers have made "significant progress."
The statement said, however, that the "significant progress" is not enough to make any conclusive statement on the existence or non-existence of the Higgs.
The Telegraph reports that on Tuesday CERN's two separate research teams, one using the ATLAS and the other the CMS detector, will reveal the results of analysis of data collected from major experiments conducted on the organization's multi-billion dollar particle-acceleration machine. Director general of CERN Rolf Heuer, has said, however, that final confirmation of the particle's existence will have to wait until around October 2012 as scientists, who began gathering data early this year, continue analyzing it for final and conclusive evidence of the particle.
According to sources at CERN, physicists are not yet making formal announcement of the discovery of the Higgs particle because they need to have "5-sigma" statistical confidence (that is, a one-in-a-million chance of being wrong) before they can make the announcement official. The Financial Times reports that the latest analysis still hovers around 3-sigma confidence.
According to the Financial Times, a "CERN insider" said: “We won’t know until the last minute how far we can go with a statement at the seminar (on Tuesday) because data are still being analyzed."
Sergio Bertolucci, director of research at CERN, was also cautious in his statements. BBC reports he said:
"It's too early to say...I think we may get indications that are not consistent with its non-existence. I would be very inclined to say just that we will not give anything except an update which will tell people we are on a good path to the discovery. This hunt for the Higgs is like fishing in an ancient way... instead of using modern tools you are removing the water from the pond... it might look tedious but it is the only way, at the end of the day, when you have removed all the water from the pond to find the smallest fish."
But some sources say the latest body of evidence suggests that the Higgs boson has a mas about 125 times greater than a proton or neutron.
In spite of the cautious statements coming from the organization, the excitement among its scientists in preparation for Tuesday's seminar is palpable. According to Professor Ellis on BBC's Newsnight programme, there is a growing sense of excitement among scientists working on the project with "some hints" emerging of a significant breakthrough. The professor said: "I think we are going to get the first glimpse. The LHC experiments have already looked high and low for this missing piece...There seem to be some hints emerging there and that's what we're going to learn on Tuesday."
Confirmation of the existence of the Higgs particle is important for physics because it remains the last element in the "Standard Model" of particle physics whose existence has not been confirmed experimentally. Physicists believe that the Higgs boson must be postulated to explain how particles got their mass. Scientists at CERN had earlier had to face the possibility that the "God particle" does not exist. Such conclusion would have left a "gaping hole" in the theoretical picture constructed in the Standard Model of particle physics. Professor Ellis speaking to BBC described the situation:
"What we have at the moment is something we call the Standard Model, that describes all fundamental particle physics. You can think of it as being an enormous giant Jigsaw puzzle, but there's a piece missing right in the middle there. We have been looking for this for 30 years now, and finally, maybe, hidden under the back of the LHC sofa... we are finally finding it."
The Financial Times reports that evidence the God particle does not exist could cause a significant public relations challenge to CERN. The organization raised $8 billion from the world's governments to build the LHC promising it will deliver the Higgs particle.
Daily Mail reports that some physicists remain skeptical of the progress CERN physicists are claiming. Nobel Prize winner Martinus Veltman of the Universities of Michigan and Utrecht, said "there is no Higgs."
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