By Alaina G. Levine
Lindau, Germany- At 11am 4 July 2012, Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced that results from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) show that “We have discovered a new particle. It is a boson….We have found the last missing corner stone of the standard model. We can close a chapter.”
Ok, but is it the Higgs Boson?
That depends if you are a layperson or a scientist, he said. As a layperson, yes, “We have it. As a scientist, I would say we have discovered a boson and now we just have to figure out which boson it is.”
If it is a Higgs Boson, “it will tell us that there’s a certain field out there everywhere for which the fundamental particles like quarks and bosons get their mass,” he said. But it is not a solidified announcement. “It is the beginning of a long journey to investigate all the interesting properties of this particle. If it is scalar it will be the first fundamental scalar ever discovered and could give us a lot of information about the Standard Model and everyone is excited about this.”
However he did say that the probability of the existence of the Higgs is roughly one in one million.
Just how similar is the particle they discovered to the one that Peter Higgs, who attended the press conference, predicted? “It’s premature but we can say right now it is consistent with the Higgs Boson for the Standard Model,” said Heuer. “We need more data. Ask me again in 3 or 4 years.” He compared the search for this Boson to a situation where you see a person across the way and you think it’s your best friend but perhaps it’s your best friends twin. As they come closer and closer you get more data and learn more.
Joe Incandela, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and spokesperson for one of the two research groups working on this problem, amplified the importance of this discovery. “The existence of a Higgs-like scalar supports the concept of supersymmetry,” an important aspect of the Standard Model.
Some interesting points: In answer to the question how many particles were used in this research, Incandela responded that 500 trillion particles were used. Think of it this way, he said: if each particle was the size of a grain of sand, there would be enough particles to fill an Olympic size pool, but the number of particles (or sand grains) that actually reduced results could fit on your fingertip.
How about the ROI for industry? Well, three companies, one French, one Italian, and one German, helped build the system, and according to the team, for every Euro they spent in R&D, they got three and a half Euros back. In addition, new technology was specifically developed for the LHC. “We developed the silicon detectors from this,” said Incandela. “10 years ago we didn’t have this technology.”
But the significance of this discovery is not lost on its founders. “We are reaching into the fabric of the universe at a level we have never gone before,” said Incandela. “We have completed one part of the story. We are on the frontier. We are on the edge of exploration. Maybe this is the edge of the story and maybe we will see another particle.”
“The Standard Model is not complete. It is not the ultimate theory of particle physics and the dream is to find the ultimate theory and we are seeking that,” said Fabiola Gianotti , the Head of the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. “I would be delighted if this is a Standard Model Higgs Boson.”
“As an experimentalist, when we work we have no bias in what we’re seeing. We really want to observe nature,” said Incandela. “The theory of Higgs led us to look for this particle. We have no prejudgments of nature. We know that the story is not complete. We know that there is Dark Matter in the universe, and maybe in the future we can ask where does out mass come from. If this is a Higgs and it is not the Standard Model Higgs, it will act as a portal a guide to what to do next. The more complicated and bizarre it turns out to be it helps us more.”
But he might have to wait some time. Even with this new discovery, the LHC will only continue its run of experiments by a few more months. “We will extend this run by 2.5 months to 3 months. Then we will shut down the LHC for two years.” He said. “We can’t go beyond these three months because we really need a lot of maintenance.”
“There could be worse days in the life of a Director General I must say,” said Hauer. “I am really pleased with all the dedication of all the people who contributed to this success.”
Reporting from Lindau, Germany, at the 62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting (Physics), Alaina G. Levine is a freelance science writer, professional speaker, corporate comedian, and President of Quantum Success Solutions, a leadership and career consulting enterprise. She can be contacted through her website at www.alainalevine.com.