Andrei V. Gritsan

Andrei V. Gritsan is assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University Department of Physics and Astronomy. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / December 13, 2011)

Breakthrough: Scientists at Europe's CERN research center found evidence of a new subatomic particle thought to be the Higgs boson, known popularly as the "God particle."

Researchers: Thousands of scientists around the world collaborated; locally, researchers from the University of Maryland College Park and Johns Hopkins University were involved.

Description: Scientists observed trillions of collisions of protons, with what Hopkins assistant professor Andrei Gritsan called the equivalent of 16,000 digital cameras watching and recording. The protons traveled at close to the speed of light and when they collided, gave off energy and matter that scientists studied. They looked for signs of a boson, a class of particle that includes the photon, but unlike photons, bosons are thought to have mass, said Gritsan, who leads Hopkins' research team. They found evidence of a particle about 140 times heavier than a proton.

Impact/What it all means: The finding confirms a theory first floated in 1964 by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs. But there is still some question of whether the particle discovered is indeed the Higgs boson. "We are sure this is a boson, and it's not a kind of boson we've ever seen," Gritsan said. "It's neither matter or energy as we know it. It's a new state of matter." Scientists hope the discovery will help speed research into what is the "dark matter" thought to make up most of the universe.

sdance@baltsun.com