50 years ago, physicists thought they found the W boson. They hadn’t

By | August 20, 2021

The W particle may have been foundScience News, August 21, 1971

Physicists distinguish four different kinds of force by which objects in the universe act upon each other: the strong nuclear force, the weak force, electromagnetism and gravity. The developed theory of particle physics outfits each force with a so-called intermediate particle.… Now, from an abandoned silver mine at Park City, Utah, comes strong evidence of the existence of the weak-force quantum, known as the … W particle.


The “strong evidence” for this W particle, or W boson, fell apart under additional scrutiny. Physicists with CERN near Geneva finally caught the boson about a decade later (SN: 2/5/83, p. 84). Besides helping mediate the weak force, which governs certain types of radioactive decay, the W boson has also helped scientists catch the Higgs boson (SN: 7/28/12, p. 5). Weighing the W boson narrowed down the Higgs’ mass range, making the Higgs easier to look for. Physicists continue unraveling W boson mysteries, such as how the particles form and whether more massive versions exist.