University of Alberta Physics professor James Pinfold poses for a photo in his office, Wednesday July 4, 2012. (QMI AgencyDAVID BLOOM)
EDMONTON - Researchers at the University of Alberta are celebrating after taking part in what is being hailed as “one of the greatest scientific achievements in the past 100 years.”
The achievement in question is the reputed discovery of an elusive subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, also known as the “God particle.”
The Higgs is theorized to have been the basic building block of the universe; scientists believe that it gave mass and energy to matter after the creation of the universe 13.7 billion years ago.
The findings were announced Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland.
U of A researchers had a hand — along with 3,000 other researchers worldwide — in designing ATLAS, one of two particle detectors in the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s (CERN) Large Hadron Collider to detect the new particle.
Dozens of students, staff and science enthusiasts were on hand at the university to celebrate the news and join in the excitement of physicists from around the world.
“It’s unusual in that the person that actually made the discovery isn’t all that important. It’s the team effort that’s important,” said James Pinfold, a particle physicist professor at the U of A.
“Without any of these pieces, the result may not be what it was.”
The particle has proved to be frustratingly elusive since British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs — now 82 — first proposed the existence of the particle in 1964.
Dean of the U of A Faculty of Science, Jonathan Schaeffer, is a long-time researcher at the school. He says all involved should feel proud.
“To work as a team regardless of nationality in the spirit of science, I’m just in awe of the brilliance it took to make this possible,” he said.
“It’s a congratulations to everyone who was involved, and I’m delighted that the university played a role in it.”
In 2003, CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, began constructing a multibillion-dollar Large Hadron Collider.
The machine brings scientists closer to re-enacting the aftermath of the Big Bang — a theoretical explosion that created the universe — allowing them to explore the makeup of matter.
The process involves taking accelerated protons (the nucleus of the hydrogen atom) and smashing them together at nearly the speed of light in the collider, which is located deep beneath the ground near Geneva in a 27-km long tunnel.