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Fermilab announces new particle discovery

Published: Thursday, July 21, 2011 5:30 a.m. CDT

BATAVIA – Scientists at Fermilab’s Tevatron particle collider on Wednesday voiced excitement about the observation of a new particle.

“It’s a little like looking at the periodic table of elements and finding a missing element,” said Fermilab physicist Pat Lukens, who gave a lecture Wednesday on the discovery. “It’s a particle that we expected to exist so it’s not a surprise, but it is the first observation of its type.”

Lukens is part of the CDF collaboration at Fermilab. The CDF is home to the Tevatron particle accelerator, which accelerates protons and antiprotons close to the speed of light, and then makes them collide head-on inside the CDF detector.

The new particle, the neutral Xi-sub-b, contains three quarks: a strange quark, an up quark and a bottom quark. Lukens said the observation of the particle is significant because it strengthens scientists’ understanding of how quarks form matter.

“It’s a baryon,” Lukens said. “A common example of baryons are protons and neutrons.”

He said the discovery marks just another accomplishment for the Tevatron, which is set to shut down this year after losing out on additional federal funds to continue its operation. The top quark was discovered at the Tevatron in 1995.

It is the heaviest known elementary particle observed in nature.

Quarks are one of the fundamental building blocks of matter in the universe.

At one time, Fermilab had the world’s largest atom smasher. But in 2009, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland broke the world record for proton acceleration, firing particle beams with 20 percent more power than Fermilab’s Tevatron, which previously held the record.

Scientists are now searching for the elusive Higgs boson, which is believed to give mass to matter that makes up the universe.

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