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‘If this is the Higgs boson, the quest is over’

The European Organization for Nuclear Research has never been as close to discovering the long-sought Higgs boson, or so-called "God Particle". A major page in the history of science could soon be turned.

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The quest for physics’ holy grail may be nearing its end after more than twenty years of research. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced Wednesday that it had identified a new subatomic particle, or boson, that is “consistent” with the Higgs boson, the so-called “God Particle”.

However, CERN scientists stopped short of claiming they discovered the much sought-after boson.

Instead they explained they had either isolated the Higgs boson, the missing link in the standard model of particle physics that explains the structure of the universe, or a completely unknown particle.

CERN - a research centre that stradles the French-Swiss border and is home to the world’s largest atom smasher – announced it would conduct further experiments to refine results.

But in both scenarios, a scientific milestone has been reached, physicist Anne-Isabelle Etienvre told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday. Etienvre, who works at ATLAS, one of the two particle detectors involved in the discovery, explained its implications.

FRANCE 24: Can you please summarize what the CERN announced Wednesday?

Anne-Isabelle Etienvre: We can now say, with a margin of error smaller than one in one million, that a new particle was discovered. It is consistent with what we know, in theory, about the Higgs boson. Two independent experiments conducted at CERN have shown the same excess mass that allows us to reach this conclusion.

F24: So did you pop the champagne bottles to celebrate the discovery of the Higgs boson?

Etienvre: Let’s just say they are chilling for now, and not far from reach. In fact, either this is the Higgs boson, or it’s one that is consistent with other theories that go beyond the standard model, such as supersymmetry theory [that states that each boson has a supersymmetrical partner]. We must now further reduce the margin of error to be able to say if this is indeed the Higgs boson.

F24: So this is not the famous missing link in standard model of particle physics?

Etienvre: Yes and no. We have isolated a particle that helps explain why other particles have mass. In this sense, the chain is now closed in the standard model. Except that in the standard theory, this link is called the Higgs boson, and today I cannot tell you with absolute certainty we discovered the Higgs boson. If it’s a different particle, it opens completely new perspectives.

F24: You seem almost hopeful that this is not the Higgs boson?

Etienvre: You could say that. Finding the Higgs boson would of course be a major discovery that we could rightly be proud of. But then the quest would be over. Its discovery validates once and for all the standard model. If, however, it is another particle, it allows us to explore new avenues, to conduct years of new research to understand its implications.

F24: Does this discovery have practical implications?

Etienvre: This is above all a leap forward in pure research. Sure, it has no direct practical application, but it helps us understanding the infinitely small, as well as the structure of life, and even the origin of the universe. That’s nothing to sneeze at!

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