Vatican astronomer says 'God particle' is misnamed, but exciting

By Benjamin Mann

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Br. Guy Consolmagno at the Denver archdiocese's Living the Catholic Faith Conference on March 3, 2012.

While it has no direct bearing on theology or revelation, the scientific discovery hailed by some as the “God particle” is an important achievement, a Vatican astronomer says.

“It is a wonderful piece of science,” said Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, a researcher and spokesman at the Vatican Observatory, in a July 5 interview with EWTN News.

On July 4, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) publicized results suggesting it had found the elusive “Higgs boson” particle, thought to explain the physical mass of objects in the universe, by means of subatomic experiments carried on at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

Br. Consolmagno said the apparent discovery of the Higgs boson was a “delight,” particularly given the gradual progress of most physical research, and the resources invested in running the Swiss particle accelerator.

“It is nice to see such a big step occur that everybody can celebrate,” the Vatican astronomer remarked, congratulating the researchers who “finally got something out of the years and time and effort they’ve put into it.”

Although officials at CERN have not definitively claimed to find the particle, the group's director-general Professor Rolf Heuer said researchers had “observed a new particle consistent with a Higgs boson.”

“As a layman I would now say I think we have it,” Prof. Heuer announced at a press conference in Geneva.

Nicknamed “the God particle” by physicist Leon Lederman, the Higgs boson was postulated by British physicist Peter Higgs during the 1960s, as a necessary component in the “Standard Model” of the universe.

The Standard Model involves four distinct forces: electromagnetism, the “strong nuclear force,” the “weak nuclear force,” and gravity. While scientists have made progress in their understanding of the first three, the force of gravitation is thought to hinge on the previously-unobserved Higgs boson.

Various kinds of subatomic particles, such as quarks, leptons, and so-called “force carriers,” are thought to make up the observable world, according to the Standard Model. While these particles account for many observable phenomena, the Higgs boson is believed to be necessary to give them their mass.

While the results from the Large Hadron Collider point to the discovery of this missing component in the Standard Model, Br. Consolmagno observed that there is “a hint that something else is going on” in the results, “which is always exciting.”

He also clarified that the discovery, despite its nickname, “has nothing to do with theology or God” in any direct sense.

“The name 'the God particle' was given to it as a joke by Leon Lederman,” the Vatican astronomer recalled. “It was basically a provocative title for book he was writing on particle physics.”

“He said that if there was a particle that could exist that could explain all the little things we wanted to explain, it would be a gift from God. It is a metaphor and has nothing to do with theology.”

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