The news was announced on Tuesday afternoon at a press conference at the Cern particle physics facility in Geneva.
Theoretical physicists believe the Higgs boson, first postulated in the 1960s and sometimes known as the “God particle”, is the elementary particle responsible for giving other elementary particles their mass.
Hints of its existence have been discovered in two separate experiments at Cern: the so-called Atlas and CMS experiments, both of which use the Large Hadron Collider.
However, this result is said to be no more statistically significant than rolling a die and coming up with two sixes in a row.
Fabiola Gianotti, spokesman for the Atlas experiment, said: “We cannot conclude anything at this stage. We need more study and more data.
“But given the outstanding performance of the Large Hadron Collider this year, we will not need to wait long for enough data and can look forward to resolving this puzzle in 2012.”
Themis Bowcock, head of particle physics at the University of Liverpool, said the results had “the scientific world agog”.
“If the Higgs observation is confirmed this really will be one of the discoveries of the century,” he said.
Claire Shepherd-Themistocleus, head of the CMS Group at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, said that, either way, “we are on the verge of a major change in our understanding of the fundamental nature of matter”.
Stephan Söldner-Rembold, head of the particle physics group at the University of Manchester, said the “greater” discovery would be that the Higgs boson did not exist as predicted.
“This would be a huge surprise and secretly we hope this might happen…The unexpected is always the most exciting,” he said.