At last, a European project triumphs

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am


Amid all the doom and gloom about the possible break-up of the euro zone, another grand European project which has time and again been threatened with failure has delivered. Many of the world's finest physicists at Cern have, by using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), found what is likely to be the Higgs boson, the long-sought particle needed to complete the standard model of physics. For now, they are calling it a Higgs-like particle. If it deviates from the standard model, scientists say it would be even more exciting as that would open new possibilities. But either way, a crucial step has been taken to explain how the universe came into being, why some particles have mass and others have little or no mass. The Higgs boson has been dubbed the 'God particle', though with such a powerful theory we may not need a Creator to explain the origin of matter and the universe.

There is no single hero or nation to claim credit, though Peter Higgs, the British scientist after whom the particle is named, surely deserves much of the limelight. A multinational project, the hunt for the Higgs boson has been a primary goal for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or Cern. This great European experiment has been open to contributions by scientists from around the world. Americans could have claimed this Holy Grail of physics for themselves. Indeed, analysing data from their defunct particle accelerator, scientists at the Fermilab near Chicago say they have seen tantalising hints of the particle. But they probably missed their best chance when the US Congress killed funding for the Superconducting Super Collider - designed to be several times more powerful than the LHC - in the early 1990s. With this as background, US writer Herman Wouk wrote a highly amusing novel called A Hole in Texas. Its premise was that the Chinese, with the rise of their nation and science, end up discovering the Higgs boson. In reality, the Americans did not have the money and the Chinese did not have the research infrastructure to claim the prize.

Now it's the highly collaborative Europeans who have delivered. If only Europe's politicians can do the same!