Physicists around the world are wondering if 2012 will mark the end of a more than 40-year search for the Higgs boson. This, in the wake of an announcement by researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), that they found promising signs for the existence of the elusive particle.

Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science have been prominent participants in ATLAS, one of the two LHC experiments to produce results in the search for this particle that gives all the other elementary particles their mass.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes-we looked at the screen for ages before we started to digest what we were seeing,” said Prof. Eilam Gross, a member of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics and who has been part of the effort to find the Higgs since 1987. “In the past three weeks, the entire Higgs search team in the ATLAS experiment have checked and rechecked the results from every possible angle. We checked for errors … for bugs in the program.”

The Higgs is predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics, which provides a framework for all of the subatomic particles in nature. The Higgs is the one piece of the Standard Model that has not been proven to exist, and some scientists believe that the model will have to be rethought if the Higgs is not found

The ATLAS results suggest that there could be a Higgs boson with a mass of around 126 GeV, and that there is just a one in 5,000 chance that the extra events observed in this particular mass are the result of a statistical fluke and not the creation of a Higgs boson.

“In 2011, the LHC particle accelerator in Geneva collided over 300 trillion protons. All of that enormous energy [7 trillion electron volts] went into the effort to produce the Higgs boson,” said Prof. Gross, the ATLAS Higgs physics group convener. “The chances of a collision producing a Higgs boson are so small that only about a hundred are expected to be observed over the course of a year.”

Researchers at LHC have cautioned that their data are still not at all conclusive to claim an authoritative discovery. But scientists worldwide believe it bodes well for the next round of LHC collisions, set to begin in April 2012.