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2012年7月 8日 (日)

ヒッグス粒子 未知の探求へ新たな一歩だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jul. 8, 2012)
Higgs boson discovery marks new start in probing the unknown
ヒッグス粒子 未知の探求へ新たな一歩だ(7月7日付・読売社説)

A new subatomic particle believed to be the "Higgs boson," hunted for more than 40 years by particle physicists around world, has been discovered at long last.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, on the Swiss-French border near Geneva, announced the discovery on Wednesday. This can definitely be called a glorious accomplishment that will go down in history.

In the smallest fractions of a second after the birth of the universe, the Higgs boson was responsible for the existence of mass, commonly thought of as weight, in all matter, according to the "Standard Model" of physics. Since it is the origin of mass in the universe, the Higgs boson is also known as the "God particle."

How did the universe come into being? How was substance brought into existence? How did galaxies form and the stars ignite? How did life first begin to stir?

The new discovery marks a milestone in the grand quest to understand the ultimate origins of humanity.

According to the Standard Model, every substance consists of 17 kinds of ultramicroscopic particles that cannot be divided into any smaller units.


Final building block

Of such particles, electrons were first discovered in 1897, while the existence of a total of 16 particles--every subatomic particle except the Higgs boson--had been confirmed by 2000.

The discovery of the Higgs boson means the final building block necessary to explain the development of the universe from its birth 13.7 billion years ago right up to the present moment has been identified.

This achievement has been made using CERN's circular 27-kilometer underground proton accelerator. The accelerator is a gigantic facility built at a cost of 550 billion yen. It can make protons, a kind of microparticle, collide with each other in a vacuum at nearly the speed of light for a high-energy collision.

CERN researchers repeated such collisions 1.1 quadrillion times, analyzing in detail the fragments produced by the impacts. These include the new Higgs particle, which they have identified with 99.99998 percent certainty, the announcement said.

From Japan, 110 researchers from universities and other research organizations, including the University of Tokyo, have taken part in the CERN program, playing significant roles in such activities as data analysis.

It was a theory formulated by Yoichiro Nambu, a Japanese-born professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, that provided the foundation for the prediction of the existence of the Higgs boson.

We feel proud of Japan's contribution.


Trust in science

The pursuit of mysteries of the universe is certain to go on. Experiments with the newly found subatomic particle will lead to the detailed elucidation of its properties. It may even be possible to crack open a new realm of cosmic theory. Physicists have great expectations.

This is because current theory can account for about only 4 percent of the energy that lets matter, and the universe itself, exist. We hope to see Japanese researchers aggressively striving to make further discoveries to help shape our understanding of the universe.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent nuclear power plant accident last year, an increasing number of people in this country are becoming distrustful of or anxious about science and technology.

A survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has shown that as many as four out of every 10 people think humans "cannot take control" of outcomes of science and technology. This is double the figure from before the March 11, 2011, disaster.

It is strongly hoped that a breakthrough such as the discovery of the Higgs boson will help resuscitate people's dreams about the future of science.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 7, 2012)
(2012年7月7日01時23分  読売新聞)


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