It also points the way toward a new path of scientific inquiry into the mass-generating mechanism that was never before possible, said University of California, Los Angeles physicist Robert Cousins, a member of one of the two research teams that has been chasing the Higgs boson at CERN.
“I compare it to turning the corner and walking around a building — there’s a whole new set of things you can look at,” he said. “It is a beginning, not an end.”
Leaders of the two teams reported independent results that suggested the existence of a previously unseen subatomic particle with a mass of about 125 to 126 billion electron volts. Both groups got results at a “five sigma” level of confidence — the statistical requirement for declaring a scientific “discovery.”
“The chance that either of the two experiments had seen a fluke is less than three parts in 10 million,” said University of California, San Diego physicist Vivek Sharma, a former leader of one of the Higgs research groups. “There is no doubt that we have found something.”
But he and others stopped just shy of saying that this new particle was indeed the long-sought Higgs boson. “All we can tell right now is that it quacks like a duck and it walks like a duck,” Sharma said.
In this case, quacking was enough for most.
“If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably at least a bird,” said Wilczek, who stayed up past 3 a.m. to watch the seminar live over the Web while vacationing in New Hampshire.
Certainly CERN leaders in Geneva, even as they referred to their discovery simply as “a new particle,” didn’t bother hiding their excitement.