THE European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) on Wednesday announced the discovery of a new particle that is consistent with the Higgs boson.

The Higgs boson, sometimes called the "God particle", is thought to give matter its mass. It was the only particle in the Standard Model - the prevailing theory of matter used in the science of fundamental particles, used for the past 50 years - that scientists had not detected, although Cern has spent billions of euros on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to search for the particle.

The LHC, with its price tag of ?8bn, is the biggest particle accelerator in the world and one of the most expensive science experiments to date.

Speaking via a live webcast on Wednesday, Joe Incandela from CMS, one of the experiments at Cern, said: "It's very early, keep that in mind . (but) we have observed a new boson."

Simon Connell, a professor in the University of Johannesburg's physics department and a Cern collaborator, said on Tuesday: "Think of the discovery of the electron . think of how it changed the world. If it is something like that, then we can anticipate as many life-changing, lifestyle-changing innovations down the line as you saw with the electron.

"People will date a game-changing breakthrough in physics (from Wednesday)."

However, Cern has been under increasing pressure to start yielding results.

The main aim of the LHC, contained in a 27km tunnel that straddles the Franco-Swiss border, was to search for the Higgs boson by smashing beams of particles together and sifting through the particle debris, which lasts for fractions of a second, for the elusive particle.

Cern press officer Sophie Tesauri told Business Day last month: "There is big pressure because there are big expectations."

Although South Africans have been working with Cern since 2002, the country only officially joined as a collaborator thanks to Department of Science and Technology funding in 2007-08.

"South Africans are making their full contribution to all of the discoveries and innovations happening at Cern," Prof Connell said.

He also said that, even if Cern announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, "we go into completely new territory", adding that it would "leave us with problems, and it will lead to more discoveries, cosmologically relevant discoveries".

wilds@bdfm.co.za