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Scientists Re-Discover Higgs Boson Using Superconductors

Feb 19, 2015 01:25 PM EST
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Scientists have re-discovered the famous Higgs boson, the "God particle" believed to be responsible for all the mass in the Universe, using superconductors, researchers announced Thursday.

The existence of the elusive Higgs boson particle took place in 2012 at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, and was later confirmed last year. The discovery of the Higgs boson verified the Standard Model, which predicted that particles gain mass by passing through a field that slows down their movement through the vacuum of space. However, proving its presence was extremely difficult because the Higgs boson is extremely short-lived, so it cannot be detected directly. Instead, scientists had to look for its decay products called fermions by conducting sub-atomic smashups at CERN.

And now, scientists are making this enormous breakthrough once again, only this time instead of using a giant particle accelerator like LHC they are using superconductors.

"Just as the CERN experiments revealed the existence of the Higgs boson in a high-energy accelerator environment, we have now revealed a Higgs boson analogue in superconductors," researcher Aviad Frydman from Bar-Ilan University, who led the research, said in a press release.

Superconductors are a special class of metals that, when cooled to very low temperatures, allow electrons to freely move without any resistance. Interestingly, the idea of the Higgs boson was inspired by superconductors more than 50 years ago. And now, the search for this God particle has come full circle, ending right back where it started - with superconductors.

"Ironically, while the discussion about this 'missing link' in the Standard Model was inspired by superconductor theory, the Higgs mode was never actually observed in superconductors because of technical difficulties - difficulties that we've managed to overcome," Frydman said.

The main challenge was preventing the superconducting material used from decaying into particle-hole pairs. When dealing with superconductors a certain amount of high energy is needed to excite what is called a Higgs mode. However, too much energy tends to brek apart the electron pairs serving as this type of material's basic charge.

Frydman and his colleagues solved this problem by "using disordered and ultra-thin superconducting films of Niobium Nitrite (NbN) and Indium Oxide (InO) near the superconductor-insulator critical point - a state in which recent theory predicted the rapid decay of the Higgs would no longer occur." This way, they could still excite a Higgs mode even at relatively low energies. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : Maximilen Brice/CERN)

A particle accelerator like the LHC, however, requires enormous amounts of energy measured in giga-electronvolts, or 109 eV, researchers say.

"The parallel phenomenon in superconductors occurs on a different energy scale entirely - just one-thousandth of a single electronvolt,' Frydman added. "What's exciting is to see how, even in these highly disparate systems, the same fundamental physics is at work."

Despite the fact that the Higgs boson was officially discovered back in 2012, and that this new study simply observed a Higgs analogue, the different approach just may the key to finally solving the longstanding mystery of fundamental physics.

Even though the new "tabletop" method is undoubtedly less expensive compared to CERN's LHC, which cost about $4.75 billion to build, the LHC is still the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world and can lead to significant discoveries about the physics of nature. CERN shut down the LHC after its first run in 2012 in order to prepare the machine to operate at almost double the energy and with more intense beams. But according to a news release, the LHC is now gearing up for its next 3-year run this spring, with the promise of new and exciting future discoveries.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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