CERN finds particle that resembles long-sought Higgs boson

More data needs to be analyzed to be certain about the characteristics of the new particle

CERN scientists announced on Wednesday that they observed a particle that strongly resembles the long-sought after Higgs boson, the final missing ingredient in the standard model of particle Physics.

The scientists wouldn't go so far as claiming the subatomic particle actually was the Higgs boson, known as the God particle, but said the data gave "clear signs" of a new particle that is a very heavy boson, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, said in a press release. The results are preliminary but it is the heaviest boson ever found, the research institute added. There is more time needed to determine if the analysis of the collected data is correct.

The Higgs boson is thought to be part of the explanation of why matter has mass, which, combined with gravity, gives objects weight. Finding this particle would give scientists a better understanding of the nature of the universe.

The results held as preliminary by CERN are based on data collected in 2011 and 2012, with the 2012 data still under analysis, CERN said. The scientists expect to publish an analysis at the end of July and said they would be able to give a clearer picture of the observations later this year after the Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle accelerator in the world, provides the experiments with more data.

CERN will next try to determine what the precise nature of the particle is and its significance for the understanding of the universe. While the scientists think it could be Higgs boson, they do not rule out that it could be something more exotic. "The Standard Model describes the fundamental particles from which we, and every visible thing in the universe, are made, and the forces acting between them. All the matter that we can see, however, appears to be no more than about 4 percent of the total. A more exotic version of the Higgs particle could be a bridge to understanding the 96 percent of the universe that remains obscure," CERN explained, adding that a positive identification of the new particle's characteristics will take considerable time and data.

"Without the worldwide grid of computing this result would not have happened," said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director general at CERN during a press conference. The computing power and the network that CERN uses is a very important part of the research, he added.

CERN's Large Hadron Collider generates hundreds of millions of particle collisions each second. Recording, storing and analyzing these vast amounts of collisions present a massive data challenge because the collider produces roughly 20 million gigabytes of data each year. Data is measured at four points along its 27 kilometer length and each point has its own experiments and their own data collector with millions of sensors. 

To process all that data CERN stores the data partly on the premises in Geneva, but has to distribute roughly 80 percent to data centers all around the world through the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG).

CERN recently started a new phase of its computing program that will address new topics crucial to the CERN scientific programme, such as cloud computing, business analytics, the next generation of hardware, and security for the myriads of network devices, according to the institute. The investment made over the three years represent more than 8 million Swiss Francs (US$8.4 million).

The scientists plan to operate the LHC at higher energy and luminosity to increase the chance of finding more exotic particles.

CERN needs to invest in computing, because the LHC experiments in 2011 took data at rates and volumes that exceeded the most optimistic forecasts. The research institute collaborates with HP, Siemens, Intel and Oracle to make sure the vast amount of data can be handled.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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