Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist Howard Gordon awoke at 3 a.m. Wednesday to hear a live announcement from Switzerland that "gave me a chill and brought a tear to my eye."
The 42-year BNL veteran is one of thousands of scientists around the globe working to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle postulated in the mid-1960s to provide other particles with mass and thus allow the world to exist. Wednesday's announcement by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) brought researchers Higgs boson, popularly called the "god particle," exists.
CERN director Rolf-Dieter Heuer announced Wednesday that "we have a discovery" of a new subatomic particle, a boson, that is "consistent with a Higgs boson," believed to give all matter size and shape. He said two independent teams had "observed" the new particle, but they stopped just shy of claiming outright discovery of the Higgs boson.
Several more years of data collection and analysis will probably be needed to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, Gordon said.
Last December, physicists working with CERN's Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator announced they had dramatically narrowed the space in which the Higgs boson could be located.
More than 1,500 U.S. researchers are participating in the experiments, including those in the ATLAS program, one of two trying to identify the Higgs boson. BNL scientists in Upton have helped design, construct and operate some of the equipment used in the ATLAS team's Higgs boson search. Gordon is the U.S. ATLAS deputy operations program manager and has been to Geneva three times this year to work with CERN.
Wednesday's announcement means "there's a new particle that's been seen" by the two research teams, Gordon said. But he added it doesn't mean the Higgs boson has actually been identified.
"The question is whether it's the Higgs boson or not. And that question is not resolved as of today [Wednesday]," Gordon said. "We have a definite observation of a new particle and it's consistent with what the Higgs boson would be. But the Higgs boson is kind of complicated and there could be other particles that would have similar properties."
The boson observations are made with a big digital camera that has about 20 billion pixels in it. Gordon said researchers can visualize the particle because they have pictures of the tracks left by the charged decay particles that emanate from it.
This story was supplemented with reports from The Associated Press.