Search for "God particle" nears its end

GENEVA -- The search is all but over for a subatomic particle that is a crucial building block of the universe.

Physicists announced Thursday they believe they have discovered the subatomic particle predicted nearly a half-century ago, which will go a long way toward explaining what gives electrons and all matter in the universe size and shape.

The particle, called a Higgs boson, was predicted in 1964 to help fill in our understanding of the creation of the universe, which many theorize occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang. The particle was named for Peter Higgs, one of the physicists who proposed its existence, but became popularly known as the "God particle."

Scientists believe the particle acts like molasses or snow: When other tiny basic building blocks pass through it, they stick together, slow down and form atoms.

Last July, scientists at CERN, the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced finding a particle they described as Higgs-like, but they stopped short of saying conclusively that it was the same particle or some version of it.

They have now finished going through the data and announced the results.

"The things that we saw last July 4 have been validated and strengthened," said Howard Gordon, part of a team of scientists based at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton that did work on the project.

It remains an "open question," CERN said in a statement, whether this is the Higgs boson that was expected, or possibly the lightest of several predicted in some theories.

The discovery would be a strong contender for the Nobel Prize, though it remains unclear whether that might go to Higgs and the others who first proposed the theory or to the thousands of scientists who found it, or to all of them.

The hunt for the Higgs entailed the use of CERN's atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, which cost $10 billion to build and runs in a 17-mile tunnel beneath the Swiss-French border.

Brookhaven hosts the last remaining ion collider in America, but federal budget cuts might force the facility to close. The facility in CERN has been creating high-energy collisions to smash protons and then study the collisions and determine how subatomic particles acquire mass -- without which the particles would fail to stick together.

With Joe Ryan

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