It’s now offi­cial: the Organ­i­sa­tion Européenne pour la Recher­ché Nucléaire (CERN) announced on July 4, 2012, that the much-​​searched-​​for Higgs Boson, the cen­ter­piece of what has come to be called the “Stan­dard Model”, has been found.

I don’t think any other sub­atomic par­ti­cle has inspired so much joy­ous cre­ative out­put, from Kate McAlpine’s (Alpinekat’s) rap video fea­tured in an ear­lier col­umn all the way to a brand-​​new “Son­net on a Higgs-​​Like Par­ti­cle” shown in the embed­ded video here.

Now Alpinekat’s rap cho­rus has become an ear­worm for me:

LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone

ALICE looks at col­li­sions of lead ions.

CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind:

They’re look­ing for what­ever new par­ti­cles they can find.

The LHC accel­er­ates the pro­tons and the lead

And the things that it dis­cov­ers will rock you in the head.

Now that the Large Hadron Col­lider (LHC in the rap lyrics above) has made a few of these, you can even buy one, but the 27 km par­ti­cle col­lider is sold sep­a­rately. (This is a spoof. Don’t try to pur­chase one, it won’t last very long and you’ll be left with noth­ing but beauty quarks.)

Col­li­sion events. Source: C|NET UK.

There are two kinds of ele­men­tary par­ti­cle. The fermi­ons are the ones we’re most famil­iar with: elec­trons, pro­tons, neu­trons, and the like. Bosons are energy. The pho­ton is a boson: a particle-​​wave of light, with prop­er­ties of both par­ti­cles and waves. Fermi­ons give us chem­istry. Bosons give us light and mass.

As fermi­ons pass through the “cos­mic molasses” of bosons, they acquire mass. The Higgs boson gives mass to those par­ti­cles. Mass — like the pull of the Earth because it’s so mas­sive — is so famil­iar to us that it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a uni­verse with­out it. That’s why physi­cists wanted so badly to find the Higgs boson.

Higgs bosons live an extremely short life, so the only way to find one is to look for the dis­rup­tion left behind it. A Higgs boson decays rapidly to two Z bosons a b quark and an anti-​​b quark, which then decay to an electron-​​positron  other par­ti­cle pairs that can be detected.

Because they come from a place where energy and mass are the same thing (good ol’ E=mc2, which relates energy E to mass m with the speed of light c), sci­en­tists mea­sure the mass of Higgs bosons in elec­tron volts (eV).

The Large Elec­tron Positron Col­lider at CERN, an ear­lier, smaller, exper­i­ment, told physi­cists that the mass of the Higgs boson would be greater than 114 giga elec­tron volts (GeV). For com­par­i­son, a pro­ton in the nucleus of an atom is about 1 GeV. (“Giga-​​” is a pre­fix which means bil­lions; “Tera-​​” is a pre­fix mean­ing tril­lions, or times 1,000,000,000,000.)

What the Teva­tron saw.

The Teva­tron at Batavia, Illi­nois, which was just recently aban­doned, ran exper­i­ments at 2 TeV. From those exper­i­ments, physi­cists knew that if they found the Higgs, it would be between 118 GeV and 158 GeV.

The Large Hadron Col­lider at CERN runs at 7 TeV. Two exper­i­ments, A Toroidal LHC Appa­ra­tuS (ATLAS) and Com­pact Muon Sole­noid (CMS), are aimed at find­ing the Higgs boson. ATLAS found a Higgs boson mass of 126 GeV while CMS gets a mass of 125.3 GeV, exactly where we would expect to find it and close to the same value. Both exper­i­ments reached the five sigma (i.e. five stan­dard devi­a­tion) level, mean­ing that there’s a one in 3.5 mil­lion chance they’re wrong. Together, they ana­lyzed 800 tril­lion col­li­sions, a feat that would be impos­si­ble with­out advances in com­puter pro­cess­ing design.

Next, physi­cists will con­tinue to exam­ine more col­li­sion events to see if there is just one Higgs boson (as pre­dicted by the Stan­dard Model) or whether there are mul­ti­ple Higgs bosons.

I can’t help but won­der how this find­ing might have been dif­fer­ent if it were made in Wax­a­hatchie instead of Geneva.