x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Weighty science

One step closer to discovery, the fundamental nature of matter peeks its head.

After spending well over $10 billion (Dh36.7bn) to find an elusive little ghost called the Higgs boson, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research are now saying they have nothing definitive to report, but could have soon.

Their excitement over uncertain results is explained not by the idea of further grant applications, but by the way science works: disproving a theory is almost as good as proving it, since each rejected idea moves us closer to the correct one. And an answer to the Higgs boson mystery, one way or another, now seems tantalisingly close.

The prevailing theory of matter - yes, we're simplifying - says this little rascal should exist. If it doesn't, the maths of particle physics don't add up and the whole theoretical framework of the discipline - electroweak gauge symmetry, massless Nambu-Goldstone bosons and all the rest - will have to be dismantled and rebuilt some other way, like a Lego castle that refuses to stand up as planned.

The Higgs boson must be there but 30 years of trying, a 27 km circular tunnel called the Large Hadron Collider and physicists' earnest efforts have not found one, though smaller particles have been spotted. Now the CERN researchers say they know where to look, but want to be sure.

Fair enough. The fundamental nature of matter, you can see, is a little like getting married - you want to be certain before you commit.