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.)
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.)
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.
- Official News from CERN Conference On The Higgs Boson: Higgs DISCOVERED! (techie-buzz.com)
- CERN announces discovery of Higgs boson (theverge.com)
- Higgs Boson Discovered: What Today’s CERN Conference Really Meant (techie-buzz.com)
- Particle ‘Consistent’ With Higgs Boson Discovered (news.discovery.com)
- New baby boson is born, weighing in at about 126 GeV (quantumdiaries.org)
- Physicists Have Found the Higgs Boson (Updating) [Science] (gizmodo.com)
- CERN discovers Higgs-like boson (physicsworld.com)
- New Particle at World’s Largest Atom Smasher is Likely Higgs Boson (livescience.com)
- LHC Discovers New Particle That Looks Like the Higgs Boson (science.slashdot.org)
- What Finding the Higgs-Boson Means (wired.com)
- New Particle Resembling Long-Sought Higgs Boson Uncovered at Large Hadron Collider (scientificamerican.com)
- Higgs boson up for spoof sale as retailer opens subatomic shop (slashgear.com)
- Truimph at Cern as Large Hadron Collider scientists announce discovery of Higgs boson ‘God particle’ (independent.co.uk)