Super-Atoms and Mystery Particles

The path to a new discovery in physics is often a very twisted one. The subject of this Alternate View column is an example of this process. A major accelerator, built with with the prospect of discovering super-heavy elements, is now being used in an experiment to produce "super-atoms" with very large electric fields, and this work has quite unexpectedly revealed what looks like a new and mysterious particle. It is reminiscent of the SF of the 1930's where one of the standard science gimmicks was the discovery of a new element with amazing properties. It also sounds a bit like the Paul Preuss novel Broken Symmetries, where the plot revolves around the discovery at a large accelerator laboratory of a mysterious new particle. But this is real science, folks. Honest!
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