‘God particle’ discovery helped by Canadian scientists’ key role

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

I dropped out of physics in Grade 12 (and had to take chemistry twice), so I have no idea how the possible discovery of the "God particle" will change our lives.

But I do know a platoon of Canadian scientists was involved in the mammoth effort to find the subatomic particle that could be the theorized Higgs boson, one of the building blocks of the universe.

"It's a huge Canadian success story," particle physicist Isabel Trigger, one of the team leaders with the Vancouver-based TRIUMF particle and nuclear physics lab told The Canadian Press.

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"All of these people have spent 20 years of their lives building something which now has found the particle we were looking for... If it's not the Higgs boson, it sure looks like the Higgs boson."

The newly discovered particle is one of the smallest units of matter and scientists believe its key to understanding why matter has mass, The Canadian Press said.

[Related: What is the Higgs boson? ('God particle explained)]

Canadians at the TRIUMF lab in Vancouver built several large pieces of the ATLAS particle detector used at the Large Hedron Collider, run by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.

ATLAS generated huge amounts of data from experiments and TRIUMF's super-computers processed 10 per cent of that data, assisted by scientists at nine Canadian universities, which led to this week's finding.

Some 3,000 scientists in more than 130 countries participated in the project, started to try to prove a theory first put forward almost 50 years ago by British physicist Peter Higgs.

"It's unusual in that the person that actually made the discovery isn't all that important. It's the team effort that's important," James Pinfold, a particle physicist professor at the University of Alberta told QMI Agency.

"Without any of these pieces, the result may not be what it was."

Michelle Boudreau, a graduate student at Simon Fraser University, said she was blown away by the big news.

"Being a physicist, you hear about everything being discovered so long ago," she told The Canadian Press. "For something completely new to be discovered is awesome — exciting times."

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The Canadian component of Higgs boson research cost about $100 million in federal and provincial funding over 20 years, an investment Trigger said vaults Canada to the front rank of scientific research.

Physics professor Rob McPherson of the University of Victoria, spokesman for ATLAS Canada, called the discovery "the last step in a chapter in our understanding of particle physics."

While continuing to analyze existing data, Canadians will keep running the ATLAS detector, which will shut down next year for an upgrade that will double its energy, The Canadian Press reported.

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