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The God particle: Believing and seeing

Vatican Radio - Sun, Jul 8th 2012

The God particle: Believing and seeing

(Vatican Radio) “The fact that we see this harmony in nature, like the harmony that is in the Higgs particle, the fact that we now have a mechanism and a particle that is able to explain how to give mass to other particles, is not against the fact hat there is a benevolent God who created the Universe”, says Theoretical Physicist and Italian Jesuit Fr. Gabriele Gionti of the Vatican Observatory. Listen to the full interview with Emer McCarthy: RealAudioMP3 

The Higgs boson has been called “the missing cornerstone of physics”, even the “God particle” but until Wednesday, it only existed as a theory, first imagined by a man named Peter Higgs in the 1960’s. He, together with Francois Englert and Robert Brout believed in the existence of a subatomic particle that was the building block for matter. They believed in it long before they had any evidence of its existence.

Over the past 50 years thousands of scientists worldwide have dedicated their lives to hunting it down, until two independent teams based at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced they had arrived at the same discovery, a boson they believe may be the sought after Higgs.

Fr. Gionti underlines the importance of this discovery, cautioning however that the data still has to be processed: “I have been to CERN a couple of times and seen all the excitement that the people there have regarding this discovery”. 

Two CERN laboratories, working independently of each other to avoid bias, found the new particle in the mass region of around 125-126 Gigaelectronvolts (GeV). According to Fr. Gionti: “this discovery could mean the Standard Model is correct”. This is a theory that identifies the building blocks for matter and the particles that convey fundamental forces. The Higgs boson is believed to exist in an invisible, ubiquitous field created by the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago. When some particles encounter the Higgs, they slow down and acquire mass, according to the theory. Others, such as particles of light, encounter no obstacle.

Such studies were enabled by the Large Hadron Collinder, the gigantic particle accelerator underneath Geneva. Fr. Gionti points out : “One of the reasons the LHC was built was the hope to detect further symmetry in nature that is called “super symmetry”. Now its not completely clear from this discovery. They say they need more time to study the data to come up with further pointers towards super-symmetry”.

Regarding the term “God’s particle”, Fr. Gionti says it refers to the fact scientists believed it was there but had never actually seen it. As a priest and scientist he says : “If you assume faith and believe in a good God who created the Universe you do not see any conflict between science and religion”.

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