SCIENTISTS in Oxfordshire last night spoke of their joy at being involved in the “momentous” discovery of a missing particle showing how the universe is held together.
More than 50 experts from the county have helped with the search for the elusive Higgs boson particle – known as the God particle – that gives matter mass.
Teams at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the £2.6bn atom-smashing machine near Geneva, announced the discovery yesterday.
Observations carried out so far show the particle looks and acts like the one that has eluded them for 50 years.
About 30 scientists from Oxford University have been working on the search for the particle, together with dozens of staff from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Harwell.
Dr Alan Barr, 35, from the university’s physics department, said the discovery was a “remarkable achievement.”
Dr Barr, who lives in Witney with wife Claire Gwenlan, 35, who has also been working on the project in Geneva, added: “The LHC started operating in 2008, but scientists have been searching for this particle for decades.
“Work has been carried out by a team of about 5,000 people working at different institutions around the world, so it’s an honour to be a small part of this.
“This discovery deepens our understanding of the universe and is a historic breakthrough.
“The existence of a particle like the Higgs boson asks deep questions about why the universe seems to be so exquisitely set up for us to inhabit, almost as if it had us in mind from the beginning.
“This seems to have captured the public imagination and will be celebrated for some time.”
Prof John Womersley, chief executive of the Science and Technology Research Council, who is based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, added: “Discovery is the important word; that is confirmed. It’s a momentous day for science.”
One British scientist who worked on the project told how he was overcome with emotion when he heard the results.
Dr Kristian Harder, from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, said: “I was listening to the transmission and I shed a tear.
“It may seem strange to someone not involved in particle physics that this is so important for us. This search has gone on since 10 years before I was born.”
Prof Peter Higgs, the retired British physicist from Edinburgh University after whom the particle was named, was in the Geneva audience when the discovery was announced.
He dreamed up the concept of the Higgs mechanism to explain mass while walking in Scotland in 1964.
Prof Higgs said: “I would like to add my congratulations to everyone involved in this achievement. It’s really an incredible thing that it’s happened in my lifetime.”