Physicists are jubilant over the announcement from CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory) that (from the CERN website),
The ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN today presented their latest results in the search for the long-sought Higgs boson. Both experiments see strong indications for the presence of a new particle, which could be the Higgs boson, in the mass region around 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). [emphases mine]
The depth of feeling is extraordinary given the announcement is cautious. When you consider that this pursuit of the Higgs boson is international in scope (approximately 150 scientists from Canada and I assume much larger contingents from elsewhere) and the effort has spanned several years, it’s fascinating and instructive to observe the jubilance.
Here’s a sampling from the July 4, 2012 live blog Lizzy Davies of the UK’s Guardian newspaper (with tweets from Guardian science correspondent Ian Sample and others) wrote during the announcement,
7:17 am … The elusive “God particle” has become the most sought-after particle in modern science. Its discovery would be proof of an invisible energy field that fills the vacuum of space, and excitement in the scientific community is at fever pitch.
8.02am: And we’re off. First up is Joe Incandela, the leader of the team using the CMS detector to search for new particles. He’ll be followed by Fabiola Gianotti from the other team using the Atlas detector.
He says the results are “very strong, very solid”.
8.13am: As Incandela speaks, the brilliant Ian Sample is live-tweeting from Cern.
Ian Sample @iansample
And we’re keeping our observations extremely serious in keeping with the potentially historic nature of the day.
8.39am: Big applause.
9.44am: Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN, offers this verdict:
As a layman I would say: I think we have it. You agree?
The audience claps. I think that’s a yes.
9.46am: Heuer flashes up on screen a slide that says Cern have discovered “a particle consistent with the Higgs boson- but which one?”
So, while this is undoubtedly a milestone with “global implications”, he says, it is also the beginning of a lot more research and investigation. But, he adds, “I think we can be very, very optimistic”.
9.49am: Peter Higgs, who first proposed the idea of this boson in 1964 and is now 83, may have shed a tear or two there- a sight which seems to have got everyone else going too.
Peter #Higgs is crying… it’s a great day for physics. I am proud of being a physician :°)
I definitely wanted to get that “George Clooney” comment in here so you can have a sense of just how giddy people can get (if you didn’t already know) in the midst of an important announcement.
Jeff Forshaw, particle physics professor at the University of Manchester, provides some perspective about the importance of this announcement in his July 4, 2012 posting for the Guardian,
Fundamental science like this is thrilling, not least because of the way that years of hard work, experimentation and mathematical analysis have led us to a worldview of astonishing simplicity and beauty.
We have learned that the universe is made up of particles and that those particles dance around in a crazy quantum way. But the rules of the game are simple – they can be codified (almost) on the back of an envelope and they express the fact that, at its most elemental level, the universe is governed by symmetry. Symmetry and simplicity go hand in hand – half a snowflake is enough information to anticipate what the other half looks like – and so it is with those dancing particles. The discovery that nature is beautifully symmetric means we have very little choice in how the elementary particles do their dance – the rules simply “come for free”. Why the universe should be built in such an elegant fashion is not understood yet, but it leaves us with a sense of awe and wonder that we should be privileged to live in such a place.
Now, physicists will begin again as they try to better our understanding of the universe. But for today they will celebrate and I have some quotes from the Canadian contingent about this latest announcement (from the July 4, 2012 TRIUMF news release),
Likening the quest for the Higgs to Christopher Columbus’s voyage of
discovery to the New World, Nigel S. Lockyer, director of TRIUMF [based at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada], said,”With ATLAS and the LHC, we set sail in the direction toward what we thought was the land of the Higgs. Last December, we saw a smudge on the horizon and knew we could be getting close to land. With these latest results, we’ve
seen the shoreline! We know we’ll make it to dry land, but the ship is not
in to shore just yet.”
The results presented today are labeled preliminary. They are based on data
collected in 2011 and 2012, with the 2012 data still under analysis.
Publication of the analyses shown today is expected around the end of July.
A more complete picture of today’s observations will emerge later this year
after the LHC provides the experiments with more data.
“The observation of a new particle at about 125 GeV, or 130 times the mass
of the proton, by both the ATLAS and CMS groups is already a tremendous
achievement,” said Rob McPherson, spokesperson of the ATLAS Canada
collaboration, a professor of physics at the University of Victoria and
Institute of Particle Physics scientist. “While our preliminary measurements
show this new particle is consistent with the Higgs boson, we need more data
to be sure that it is definitely the Higgs.”
The next step will be to determine the precise nature of the particle and
its significance for our understanding of the universe. Are its properties
as expected for the long-sought Higgs boson, the final\ missing ingredient
in the Standard Model of particle physics? Or is it something more exotic?
The Standard Model describes the fundamental particles from which we, and
every visible thing in the universe, are made, and the forces acting between
them. All the matter that we can see, however, appears to be no more than
about 4% of the total. A more exotic version of the Higgs particle could be
a bridge to understanding the 96% of the universe that remains obscure.
Don’t forget there’s an open house from 9 am to 11 am today at TRIUMF where you can find out more about the Higgs boson and the latest announcement.
ETA July 4, 2012 1:30 pm PST: You can still attend a live Q&A being held by the journal Nature tomorrow (July 5, 2012) at 2 pm BST or 6 am PST: Live Q&A: Higgs found, so what’s next?