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Elusive 'God Particle' Discovered After 50-Year Quest (Layman's Explainer Guide Included)



GENEVA - Physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva have announced that they have observed a new subatomic particle that may well be the crucial Higgs boson, a.k.a. the "God particle," thus potentially putting an end to an almost 50-year-long game of hide-and-seek with the elusive particle.

"The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we're seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it's the heaviest boson ever found," said spokesperson Joe Incandela in a press release published on the CERN website.

A little rusty on your particle physics? Here are three attempts at helping the rest of us to understand what all the fuss is about:

-David J. Miller, a physicist at University College London used the following analogy in 1993: Imagine a cocktail party in a ballroom. Regular people can walk around freely, encountering no resistance from other members of the crowd. But when a celebrity – say, Justin Bieber -- shows up, everybody gathers around so tightly that he can hardly move... The partygoers are like Higgs bosons, giving mass to the whole cluster. Bieber represents basically anything in the universe. For once.

-The Higgs field has also been described as an all-pervading "cosmic treacle," a kind of sticky syrup (see image below) spread throughout the universe. Particles moving through the treacle stick to it, slow down, lose energy, and become heavier. Not to mention yummier.

Peter Higgs, the British physicist after whom the particle is named, called this step a great achievement for the Large Hadron Collider, the 27-km (17-mile) long particle accelerator built in a tunnel underneath the French-Swiss border where experiments to search for the boson have taken place, Reuters reports. Higgs added: "I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge."

If confirmed, the discovery would have virtually illimited implications. One of them being that British physicist Stephen Hawking would owe University of Michigan physicist Gordon Kane $100: Back in 2000, Hawking bet Kane that the Higgs boson would never be found, as reported in the magazine New Scientist.

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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