'God particle' is critical for universe

2012-01-23 14:50
Dr David Wolfe has said the 'god particle' may be found. (Daniel Calderwood, News24)

Dr David Wolfe has said the 'god particle' may be found. (Daniel Calderwood, News24)

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Cape Town - Particle physics aims to explore the interactions of various atomic particles and the identification of the so-called "god particle" is central to understanding the universe.

"There are two big experiments - there's this thing called Atlas and CMS. They both have a hint of an effect. The hints are statistically insignificant, but they're at the same place so 'maybe' is the answer," Dr David Wolfe told News24.

Wolfe is an emeritus professor of the University of New Mexico, and a visiting lecturer at the UCT physics department where he is giving a summer school on the Large Hadron Collider and The Physics of Elementary Particles.

He said that when he worked at Cern, the experiments were more manageable than the complex ones today to detect the Higgs boson.

Mysterious particle

"It was little; I could run it myself. Now the Atlas experiment, which is the biggest experiment at Cern, is 7 000 tons, it has 3 000 physicists from 89 different countries. It costs I don't know how many billions; nobody understands it all. It's more a business than it is physics.

"But this is a complaint of the old - which is what I'm doing," said Wolfe.

Observing the mysterious particle which is said to give all other particles their mass would confirm theories of how the universe is put together and answer questions about particle interactions or forces in nature.

"What people keep looking for is what particle physicists like to call a Theory of Everything.

"That is so full of hubris that I'm surprised the old Greek gods don't come and strike people dead. You know, it's like Icarus flying so close to the sun and the wax is going to melt," said Wolfe, laughing.

In quantum physics, matter consists of fermions, which carry properties called charges. These fermions interact and result in forces that can be observed.

Electricity and magnetism were unified as electromagnetism and scientists have worked to unify strong and weak atomic forces.

Nobel Prize

For contributions to the unification of the weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, Abdus Salam, Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979.

Physicists have tried to unify all observed forces to understand the universe and the Standard Model of physics comes close, but does not take into account the phenomenon of dark matter.

"The stuff seems to have to exist. We can count the number of stars in our galaxy, more or less, and there are about 100 billion give or take a billion or so.

"We're going around much faster than the stuff we can measure. There's not enough material out there to account for the speed at which the galaxy is rotating.

"What is this stuff? We can't see it; we can't measure it, it doesn't interact with anything, but it has mass and therefore gravity and that's what counts," Wolfe said.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

Read more on:    cern  |  science

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