Has the Elusive Higgs Boson Finally Been Found? CERN’s Tantalizing Evidence.

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Home / Has the Elusive Higgs Boson Finally Been Found? CERN’s Tantalizing Evidence.

CERN physicists announce Higgs findings: Image courtesy of CERN

CERN Data: Intriguing Findings

Unfortunately, the Standard Model does not predict the mass of the Higgs boson — and equivalently, per E = mc2, its rest energy. Plus these particles are short-lived -they rapidly decay, or transform into other particles. So physicists at CERN must look for the Higgs boson indirectly by searching for the particles into which they decay. Like a water wake on a lake tells us a motor-boat has passed, excesses of these residual particles tell physicists the Higgs boson has been there.

Using this method, two independent CERN experiments arrived at very close to the same conclusion. ATLAS team data showed the Higgs boson most likely lies within an energy range of 116-130 GeV (One GeV is a billion electron volts). The CMS team found evidence between 115-127
GeV. And both experiments saw a “sweet spot”  for the Higgs boson at 125 GeV.

Physicists, however, remain cautious. The National Post reports:  “It’s too early to draw definitive conclusions, we need more data,” said Fabiola Gianotti, head of the ATLAS group. These latest results  “have a higher degree of certainty — 99 percent,” reports the Post, but this is not good enough. “For scientists, certainty requires a threshold of a no greater than five in ten million chance of error,” Daniel Fournier, an Atlas researcher, told AFP.

Others are more optimistic. From Brandeis Now: “There’s a good indication that this particle is there,” says Brandeis physics Professor Craig Blocker, “so we’ll probably be able to announce the discovery next year with more data.”

Particle Traces after Collision: Image courtesy of CERN

The “God Particle”: Are We Done?

Legend has it that for his 1993 book on the search for the elusive Higgs boson, Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman wanted the title “the Goddamn Particle”. His publisher changed it to “The God Particle.” The name stuck with the media, and Lederman has had to face the wrath of fellow physicists ever since.

“I hate that ‘God particle’ term,” said Pauline Gagnon, a Canadian member of CERN’s ATLAS team,  “The Higgs is not endowed with any religious meaning. It is ridiculous to call it that,” Gagnon told Reuters at a news conference.

Even if the Higgs discovery is confirmed, it leaves much of particle physics in question. For instance, physicists have shown mathematically that in the first super-hot, super-dense moments after the big bang, the electromagnetic force and weak nuclear force were united in a single force called the electroweak force. But they have yet to show that the strong nuclear force (which holds the nuclei of atoms together) can be united with the electroweak. And no confirmed theory has yet united these quantum forces with the most familiar force in the universe — gravity.

In addition, the Standard Model accounts for only some 4% of the content of the universe. So-called dark matter (26 percent) and dark energy (70 percent) make up some 96 percent of our observable universe — but no one knows what they are.

Resources:

CERN. ATLAS and CMS experiments present Higgs search status. Accessed December 14, 2011.

National Post. Higgs boson, the most ‘elegant’ way to describe our reality… but don’t call it the  ‘God particle’. Accessed Dec. 14, 2011.

Brookhaven Today. Possible Hints of Higgs Boson Remain in Latest Analyses, Physicists Say. Accessed Dec. 14, 2011.

Gardner, L., Brandeis N. Physicists say they are near epic Higgs boson discovery. Accessed Dec. 14, 2011. 

Naik, Gautam. Physicists Close In on a Universal Puzzle. Wall Street Journal, Dec. 14, 2011. 

Randerson, J. Father of the God Particle. (2008).The Guardian

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