Monday, April 25, 2011

Science News: LHC may have found the "God Particle" and Anti-Helium Produced

An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Here, following a collision of two protons, a Higgs boson is produced which decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. The lines represent the possible paths of particles produced by the proton-proton collision in the detector while the energy these particles deposit is shown in blue.
- Courtesy Wikipedia

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Fox News- The news was simply too exciting to keep under wraps: A Swiss particle accelerator may have found a long-sought subatomic bit called the Higgs Boson -- something never before seen, but thought to be the fundamental unit of matter. It's called the "God Particle" because it is the one thing that lends mass to all other stuff.

But is it too good to be true? Or merely blabbering physicists, battling it out for a spot in the public eye? 

The controversial rumor is based on a leaked internal note from physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile-long particle accelerator near Geneva that sits on the sharpest part of the cutting edge of science. The note details an unexpected "bump" in emissions that may be proof of the long-sought particle.

If the find is true, it's a game changer for science, explained Dmitri Denisov, a physicist with Fermilabs in Illinois.

"I would compare it to the discovery of electricity," he told

Sau Lan Wu, the Enrico Fermi professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and one of the controversial memo's authors, told she couldn't speak further about the discovery -- not yet, anyway.

But two weeks earlier, scientists at the Tevatron atom smasher at Fermilab in Illinois heralded their own discovery: a new particle, also evidenced by a "bump" in the data.

Sound familiar?

The Tevatron bump and the CERN bump aren't connected, however, said Rob Roser, staff scientist at Fermilab. He pointed out that the two colliders work in different ways, one smashing protons and antiprotons, the other colliding protons with other protons. But Roser was unsurprised that Wu had made such a startling claim.

"She's very aggressive, shall we say," he told

Roser said Wu's team has been on a lengthy quest for the Higgs Boson, ever since CERN shuttered her old project -- the aging Large Electron Positron Collider II. Just before that project ended, Wu claimed a similar discovery, Roser said.

"She didn't just happen on this, she's been pushing hard on the data sets and pushing to understand the simulations for quite a while," he told

Tommaso Dorigo, an experimental particle physicist who works with both atom smashers, blogged about Wu's discovery on Friday. He shared the same suspicions as Roser, noting that Wu was "among those less happy of the decommissioning of LEP II at the time when they were claiming a possible Higgs signal."

"Maybe these guys have been looking for some confirmation of the 115 GeV Higgs all along," he wrote. Dorigo did not respond to requests for more information.

James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN, explained that the leaked note faces several layers of scrutiny before it could be submitted for publication. "Things such as this show up quite frequently in the course of analysis," he told

"It's way too soon to get excited, I'm afraid," he said. "It's not the physics find of the millennium, unfortunately."


Isn't mass just inherent in stuff? How could one particle be responsible for the mass of another? Physicists believe the Higgs does just that -- and an analogy at the Exploratorium website explains the concept nicely.

"Imagine you're at a Hollywood party. The crowd is rather thick, and evenly distributed around the room, chatting. When the big star arrives, the people nearest the door gather around her. As she moves through the party, she attracts the people closest to her, and those she moves away from return to their other conversations.

"By gathering a fawning cluster of people around her, she's gained momentum, an indication of mass. She's harder to slow down than she would be without the crowd. Once she's stopped, it's harder to get her going again."


True or not, you have to be amazed by everything about the LHC, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator.

The collider is a 17-mile looped tunnel designed to create "mini-Big Bangs" by smashing together particles. Inside the tunnel, essentially a massive donut that sits on the border between France and Switzerland, two beams of light are shot in either direction and accelerated with magnets to nearly the speed of light.

In order for the superconducting magnets to work at maximum efficiency, they are chilled to 519 degrees Farenheit -- colder than outer space. This means the LHC is also the world's largest refrigerator, the CERN website points out.

To record the incredibly fast and incredibly tiny collisions of hundreds of thousands of particles, there are several giant detectors -- essentially super high-speed cameras recording millions of data points per second. But because the Large Hadron Collider will produce roughly 15 petabytes (15 million gigabytes) of data annually, ordinary connections wouldn't be capable of transmitting all of that data fast enough.

To store all of the information coming out of the machine, the detectors are tied into a next-generation computer network called The Grid, a superfast network of fiber optic cables just to carry all that information.

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Anti-Helium Produced
Long Island atom smasher creates the heaviest antimatter nucleus ever

(ISNS) - Scientists at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, an accelerator complex at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., have on multiple occasions produced the heaviest antimatter nucleus ever observed. Each of the particles, the antimatter equivalent of a helium-4 nucleus, is really a four-particle parcel consisting of two antiprotons and two antineutrons.
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Physicists use powerful beams of particles to explore matter at the finest possible level. They often do this by smashing together beams of particles accelerated to very high speeds, approaching the speed of light. Then they collide these particles to see what comes out—as if they smashed together two Swiss watches to learn how they work.

In this case each "watch" was a gold nucleus, an atom of gold with its entire complement of electrons stripped off. The moving parts inside a nucleus are not springs and wheels, but rather protons and neutrons. Each gold nucleus contains 197 protons and neutrons. And when two such gold nuclei, moving within two beams zipping around the RHIC machine at very high speed, finally collide, they create a fireball involving nearly 400 protons and neutrons.

The surplus energy of this fireball is so high that some of it can be converted into new particles on the spot. In past collision studies at RHIC, antimatter particles have been seen to spring out of the fireball. These included anti-protons, anti-deuterons (each consisting of an anti-proton and an anti-neutron), anti-tritons (consisting of two anti-neutrons and one anti-proton), and even an antimatter counterpart of the helium-3 nucleus (consisting of two anti-protons and one anti-neutron).

In a paper posted online on April 24 by Nature magazine, the RHIC collaboration of scientists announced the first sighting of anti-helium-4 nuclei, the heaviest antimatter particle yet observed. In the experiment 18 traces of the heavy antiparticles were seen.  Each time a particle with composite mass of the anti-helium was recorded in surrounding detectors.  Even as its presence was being sensed,  the anti-helium annihilated with ordinary matter in the detectors, releasing a characteristic short burst of energy to signify the destruction of the new antimatter.

One of the lead authors on the paper, Aihong Tang of Brookhaven, said that if the anti-helium didn't exist then only one or two events with that particular energy would have been observed.  The fact that 18 events were actually seen with that amount of energy gives the scientists confidence that they had indeed discovered anti-helium. 

Antimatter is made in various violent events in distant celestial objects.  These are expected to send some antimatter particles in the direction of Earth, where, with orbiting telescopes stationed above the Earth’s atmosphere, they have been observed.

"The fact that so few antimatter helium nuclei have been seen in our detectors on Earth suggests that if any antimatter helium is seen on those orbiting detectors it will mean that it will not be coming from collisions among ordinary matter particles, but from distant bulk antimatter sources in the sky," said Tang.

Tang points out a nice symmetry involved in the new discovery. It was exactly 100 years ago that the nucleus itself was discovered in experiments conducted in Britain by Ernest Rutherford.  Before that time, the composition of atoms was unknown. Long before there were accelerators available, Rutherford contrived to collect a faint beam of helium-4 nuclei, which are also called alpha particles, from a naturally radioactive material. Then he directed these alphas into a thin gold foil. Instead of all passing through the foil, some of the alpha particles rebounded backwards.

Scientists quickly deduced that atoms consisted of a heavy inner part, now called the nucleus, and a lighter outer part consisting of one or more electrons. In 1911, Rutherford had discovered the nature of gold nuclei using an alpha beam. Now, 100 years later, in a nice feat of turnabout, RHIC has discovered anti-alphas by colliding gold nuclei at high energies.

Jeffrey Hangst is a spokesperson for the ALPHA experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, an even more powerful instrument at the CERN lab in Geneva, Switzerland. He says that even though the discovery of anti-helium at RHIC was not unexpected, everything in science needs to be confirmed. "What if it hadn’t been there?" Hangst asked, adding that the new finding provides an experimental benchmark for the rarity of anti-helium nucleus production in the universe. 

High energy collisions have also been carried out at by another group, the ALICE detector group at the LHC, where the beams consisted of lead nuclei rather than gold nuclei. Has any anti-helium been seen at LHC? "There is a recent unpublished report of some events at ALICE," Hangst said. 

Hangst's own work resulted last year in the first ever making and trapping of anti-hydrogen atoms.

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