* Scientists may announce discovery of Higgs Boson
* "God particle" said to be origin of life, the universe
* Worldwide focus on Geneva laboratory CERN
* Advance into realms of science fiction mooted
By Robert Evans
GENEVA, July 1 It has been fancifully dubbed the
angel of creation and, to the particular scorn of physicists,
the god particle.
The Higgs Boson is said to have appeared out of the chaos of
the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and turned the flying debris
from that primeval explosion into galaxies, stars, and planets.
Its formal discovery, according to a broad scientific
consensus, would be the greatest advance in knowledge of the
universe in decades.
But until now, in the four decades of research since its
existence was first posited, no-one has claimed to have more
than seen a hint of the Higgs Boson.
This may be about to change.
On Wednesday at the CERN particle physics research centre
near Geneva, two separate teams of "Higgs Hunters" - a term they
profess to hate - may well announce they have spotted it.
Or at least something that looks incredibly like it.
"Think of it as a smoking duck," says Oliver Buchmueller, a
senior scientist on one of the teams, the CMS.
"If it walks like a Higgs and it quacks like a Higgs, then we
would have to at least consider the possibility that we have a
prominent new member of the Boson family on our hands."
The Higgs Boson is a vital component of the "Standard Model"
- the all-encompassing 30-year-old scientific theory of how the
universe works at the simplest level.
Without it, says U.S. physicist Matt Strassler, "nothing
like human beings, or the earth we live on, could exist".
WHY A BOSON
Why is it called a boson? Because elementary particles, the
building blocks of the cosmos, come in two types - bosons and
fermions - and the Higgs has been assigned to the first.
Physicists say the particle is like a wave from what would
be the otherwise invisible Higgs field and would provide prime
evidence that that underlying force is there.
Buchmueller, like all scientists at CERN, is silent on what
might be revealed on July 4 by scientists who have analysed the
product of many trillions of mini-big bangs created over the
past two years in CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
"We will all just have to be patient till Wednesday," says
Pauline Gagnon, a Canadian physicist on CMS' rival team Atlas,
blogging from a big particle physics conference in Australia.
Last December, CMS and Atlas told a similar seminar at the
sprawling CERN campus on the Swiss-French border, that they had
seen "tantalising glimpses" of what could be the boson, named
after 82-year-old British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs.
Since then, power in the underground LHC has been ramped up
and the rate of almost light-speed particle collisions in it has
been tripled in an attempt to produce something more definite.
A sense that "something" has been seen has been bolstered
not only by the announcement of the CERN seminar and a live
video feed to the Melbourne congress but by other linked events
scheduled around the globe.
New York's Columbia University said it was holding an
early-hours pyjama party in the hope of seeing "sub-atomic
In London, a concert hall across from the Houses of
Parliament has been booked for a similar, but daytime, event.
Japanese, Russian and Chinese scientists will be watching too.
At the U.S. Fermilab near Chicago, where scientists spent
three decades looking for the Higgs in their Tevatron collider
which was shut down last December as Washington cut off funds,
another seminar has been set for Monday.
That gathering, according to the centre's daily bulletin,
will hear the final "Higgs results" from the Tevatron, a much
less powerful machine than the mighty LHC.
But just what will be announced at CERN - and Fermilab -
remains far from clear.
To claim a discovery, scientists have to have a "5 sigma"
certainty - or be sure that there is less than a one in a
million chance it is a fluke.
The Higgs, both field and boson, could come in various
forms, specialists say, and although one type may have been seen
it may yet take time to determine exactly which one it is.
The question will probably remain open on whether it is a
Standard Model version, or something else that will take
scientists into the science fiction realms of "New Physics".
"It could prove to be a single child or have siblings, and
what its hair colour or genetic code is would remain to be
established before we know its true nature," said Buchmueller.
"It might be an alien, after all."
(Reporting by Robert Evans; Editing by Pravin Char)