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SCIENCE

Scientists step up hunt for ‘God particle’

Decades of work have been devoted to the quest for a sub-atomic particle called the Higgs Boson, which may at last have been detected, scientists announced on Tuesday.

Scientists step up hunt for 'God particle'

Bruno Mansoulie, a researcher at the European organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), told reporters in Geneva that Europe’s giant atom smasher had “reduced the window where scientists think they will find the Higgs boson.”

Underpinning the search is a thirst to fill a major gap in the theory of sub-atomic particles, known as the Standard Model.

Developed in the early 1970s, the Standard Model says there are 12 particles, which comprise the basic building blocks for all matter.

These fundamental particles are divided into a bestiary comprising six leptons and six quarks which have rather exotic names such as “charm,” “tau” and “strange.”

The Standard Model also says there are non-matter particles, called bosons, which are messengers acting between matter particles.

This interaction gives rise to three fundamental forces — the strong force, the weak force and the electromagnetic force (there is a fourth force, gravity, which is suspected to be caused by a still-to-be-found boson called the graviton).

The mystery, though, is what gives matter particles mass — and why some of these particles have more mass than others.

The theory behind the Higgs is that the mass does not derive from the particles themselves. Instead, it comes from a boson that reacts strongly with some particles but less, if at all, with others.

One way of looking at this is to think of a cocktail party in which there is a crowd (the bosons) and newcomers (the matter particles).

Imagine what happens when a complete stranger enters the party and walks across the room. Only a few people will know him and come up to him, so he is able to walk across swiftly without much hindrance.

But what happens when a celebrity comes in?

The people cluster around the VIP, and it takes him longer to cross the room — in terms of physics, this particle has more mass.

“The idea is that particles bump into Higgs Bosons all the time, and this contact is what slows them down and gives them mass,” said French physicist and philosopher Etienne Klein.

The Higgs Boson is named after a British physicist, Peter Higgs, who proposed its existence in a paper to the journal Physical Review Letters in 1964.

Higgs got his idea while walking one weekend in Scotland’s Cairngorm Mountains. On returning to his lab, he declared to his colleagues that he had just experienced his “one big idea” and had an answer to the enigma of how matter got its mass.

Although the particle commonly carries Higgs’s name, important theoretical work was also made by Belgian physicists Robert Brout and Francois Englert.

The Higgs has become known as the “God particle,” the quip being that, like God, it is everywhere but very elusive.

In fact, the origin of the name is rather less poetic.

It comes from the title of a book by Nobel physicist Leon Lederman whose draft title was “The Goddamn Particle,” to describe the frustrations of trying to nail the Higgs.

The title was cut back to “The God Particle” by his publisher, apparently fearful that “Goddamn” could be offensive.

SCIENCE

π: Swiss researchers calculate most exact figure of pi ever recorded

Using a supercomputer, Swiss researchers have determined the most accurate version of the mathematical formula of pi ever recorded.

π: Swiss researchers calculate most exact figure of pi ever recorded
The symbol for pi. Picture: Wikicommons.

Swiss researchers said on Monday they had calculated the mathematical constant pi to a new world-record level of exactitude, hitting 62.8 trillion figures using a supercomputer.

“The calculation took 108 days and nine hours” using a supercomputer, the Graubünden University of Applied Sciences said in a statement.

Its efforts were “almost twice as fast as the record Google set using its cloud in 2019, and 3.5 times as fast as the previous world record in 2020”, according to the university’s Centre for Data Analytics, Visualisation and Simulation.

Researchers are waiting for the Guinness Book of Records to certify their feat, until then revealing only the final ten digits they calculated for pi: 7817924264.

The previous world-record pi calculation had achieved 50 trillion figures. Pi represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, with an infinite number of digits following the decimal point.

Researchers nevertheless continue to push calculations for the constant — whose first 10 figures are 3.141592653 — ever further using powerful computers.

The Swiss team said that the experience they built up calculating pi could be applied in other areas like “RNA analysis, simulations of fluid dynamics and textual analysis”.

Not only was the task labour intensive, but it called upon the best computing technology on offer – with more than 300 terabytes of RAM required to calculate the new more exact incarnation of pi.

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