Physicists working at the Fermilab in Chicago, Ill., are running out of fresh data to study. But it is in what they have studied that might indicate the presence of the elusive Higgs boson, the so-called "God particle." Because it is in the data gathered from 500 trillion particle collisions that has provided scientists with images -- "hints" -- of the ultra-small particle that could be responsible for sub-atomic mass, the last theorized piece of the puzzle for the Standard Model of particle physics.
Scientists say they have created about 1,000 Higgs particles over the ten years of particle collision experiments at Fermilab, Reuters reported Wednesday. However, the images of the particles are short-lived and extremely difficult to qualify with certainty.
"Unfortunately, this hint is not significant enough to conclude that the Higgs boson exists," Fermilab physicist Rob Roser stated at a conference in Italy Wednesday.
The Higgs boson was so quick to decay into other particles, Roser explained the study's findings, that its image was "fuzzy."
Fermilab was forced to shut down its 4-mile-long Tevatron collider in September due to lack of government funding. Even though the data gathered from its collision experiments might not obtain definitive proof of the God particle's existence, the findings will help enable the CERN and its Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile-long particle accelerator located beneath the surface of the France-Switzerland border, to possibly make the discovery. Scientists there are hoping to find the proof they need before the LHC shuts down for maintenance at the end of 2012.
If the God particle actually exists, that is.
In all the equations concerning the make-up of the universe, much was explained about subatomic particles and electromagnetism and nuclear relationships by what became known as the Standard Model. With its development subatomic bosons and quarks were not only theorized but actually found to exist. However, the way matter acquired mass at the elementary subatomic level was an uncertainty. Peter Higgs, a British physicist, proposed in 1964 the theoretical existence of a mechanism thought to permeate all matter since the Big Bang and by which particles attained mass. The search for the subatomic particle has been ongoing ever since.
And even with 1,000 or so "hints" at its existence, the Higgs boson remains only a theoretical particle. If it is not found, physicists will again be faced with the task of re-examining the Standard Model and attempting to find new avenues to explain just what provides elementary particles mass.
Scientists are confident that the answer -- one way or the other -- will be reached within the year.
"We know everything about the Higgs boson except whether it exists," Rolf Heuer, director general of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), told AFP back in July 2011.
Via webcast from Geneva, he told reporters: "We can settle this Shakespearean question -- to be or not to be -- by the end of next year."
(photo credit: Fermilab, Reidar Hahn, Wikimedia Commons)