When rumors started crisscrossing the Internet last week that the elusive Higgs particle had been detected by researchers at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, I experienced my first physics-generated chill in a decade. It happened again Tuesday morning with the official announcement suggesting that the more than 40-year search for the Higgs may finally be nearing its end. The researchers have cautioned that the data have not yet reached the threshold for claiming a definitive discovery. But the stakes are so high that even the tentative announcement has rightly fueled much excitement. Finding the Higgs particle would complete an essential chapter in our quest to understand the basic constituents of the universe. The story began in the 1960s as physicists developed what would soon be called “the standard model of particle physics” — a mathematical framework that would prove capable of predicting the results of every experiment at every atom smasher around the world. The equations locked quarks and electrons, muons and neutrinos and a host of other fundamental particles into a mathematical matrix whose intrinsic patterns, like the form of a perfect snowflake, exhibited an exacting symmetry. But even as the theory’s predictions were repeatedly borne out by nearly half a century of experimental data, one vital part remained beyond reach.