As Physicists Near Discovery of God Particle, A Word With SMU Prof Involved In the Search

You've probably heard that an international contingent of physicists in Switzerland is this close to identifying the Higgs boson, aka the "God particle."

Currently, the Higgs is the theoretical mechanism that explains how matter obtained mass following the Big Bang. The theory is that it imbued the basic building blocks of the stars and planets and everything else with mass and, thus, gravity, so that the swirling particles thrown forth in that great cataclysm of creation eventually settled down and coalesced, making life possible.

The Higgs is the last undiscovered piece in the Standard Model of Physics, which describes "the basic building blocks of matter and their interactions." Proving or disproving the existence of the Higgs would do no less than aid in the explanation of gravity, the evolution of the universe and the Big Bang, which they're trying to recreate on a small scale in the Large Hadron Collider.

"To me, it's like being a member of the Mayflower," says Ryszard Stroynowski, an SMU physics professor.

Along with other faculty and graduate students from Southern Methodist University, he's part of the international search for the Higgs -- a sort of study-abroad program with galactic implications.

Unfair Park put in a call to Stroynowski, who's leading the SMU team. Since 1994, he and other physicists have been involved in the development and construction of a device that can detect the fragments created by collisions of protons in the particle accelerator -- and the accompanying electrons and photons, potentially the measurable hallmarks of the Higgs.

On Tuesday, the Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that they'd narrowed the search down to a small range of masses. They're close, maybe a year away, Stroynowski says, from finding it.

To be at the cusp of this discovery, for SMU students, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"It's not very often a student has a chance to participate in a huge international effort at the very frontier of science," he says. "We estimate that if we collect data for another year, we'll definitely be able to claim a discovery or exclude [the Higgs] completely.

"We haven't had an opportunity of this magnitude for 25 to 30 years, so it's perfect timing for some graduate students."