July 4th, 2012 by Michael Ricciardi
Two particle detector teams working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN facility in Switzerland have announced the discovery of a new particle — a boson — that could be THE so-called ‘god’ particle, The Higgs boson.
The theoretical Higgs boson was originally postulated as a key particle that confers mass onto other all other particles as they emerge from the primordial quantum field that became our Universe.
Team spokesperson Joe Incandela presented a collision graph from one of the detectors showing two distinct data peaks, stating: “That is what we are sure is the Higgs.”
“The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found.” — Joe Incandela, CMS team spokesperson.
While most agree that it is indeed a new particle, and most likely a boson, many are not quite ready to say it is the Higgs. Physicists are a cautious lot (even more so after the recent faster-than-light-speed neutrino false alarm).
The two detector teams — the ATLAS and CMS teams — at the LHC independently confirmed a new particle found in the 125-126 GeV energy range (that’s 125 billion electron volts). The statistical analysis of error probability resulted in a ‘5 Sigma’ rating — the gold standard for new particle detection, meaning that there’s a less-than-one-in-a-million chance that the signal is due to “noise,” statistical aberration, or machine error.
Oliver Buchmueller, a senior physicist working on the analysis, stated in a Reuters interview: “We know it is a new boson. But we still have to prove definitively that it is the one that Higgs predicted.”
From the CERN press Release (July 4, 2012):
“We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The outstanding performance of the LHC and ATLAS and the huge efforts of many people have brought us to this exciting stage,” said ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, “but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication.”
If It Looks Like a Higgs, and Smells Like a Higgs…?
Physicists had gathered in research facilities all over the world to hear the announcement. Many are confident that it is indeed the Higgs Boson and that, in finding it, they have found the final piece in the cosmic quantum puzzle; they validated what is known as the Standard Model of Quantum Mechanics, which, with its 12 sub-atomic particles and four forces, explains (nearly) how the universe came into being (except for that pesky dark matter, and dark energy).
But there is always a bit of a discrepancy between theory and (experimental) reality: the ‘Higgs’ they have found might not be the ‘Higgs’ that was predicted in the theory put forth by physicist Peter Higgs sixty years ago. It could be some exotic variant of the Higgs, or even a completely new type of boson* that could alter current notions of the structure of physical matter in the universe.
As usual in physics: one breakthrough discovery creates a new set of mysteries to be solved. Expect another announcement in the coming weeks or months. Thus proceeds the evolution of human knowledge.
*[author comment] The ‘son of god’ particle’?
Top image and graph courtesy CERN; caption quote for top image:
“Event recorded with the CMS detector in 2012 at a proton-proton centre of mass energy of 8 TeV. The event shows characteristics expected from the decay of the SM Higgs boson to a pair of photons (dashed yellow lines and green towers). The event could also be due to known standard model background processes.”
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