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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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What a discovery looks like

What a remarkable day this has turned out to be, and how wonderful it has been to get to experience it here at ICHEP in Melbourne! As I remarked in the live blog, I knew coming in what the CMS results were — that we clearly had a strong signal for a new particle, and that as far as we could tell, it looked like the Higgs boson — but I didn’t have a clue about what ATLAS was going to present. And now we know: a totally independent experiment has made essentially the exact same observation. We can say without a doubt that we have discovered a new particle, and better still, it seems to be the one that we have been waiting for, for something like fifty years.

It was clear that everyone came into this seminar hoping that this would be the case. I must say that I did not expect that there would be a spontaneous round of applause as soon as “5σ” appeared on a slide. (Maybe I should start writing that on my slides, just to see what would happen during the presentation.) Five standard deviations is ultimately an arbitrary standard — what makes it better than six, or five and a half? — but it is the standard, and everyone was so eager for a discovery that it was embraced as soon as it appeared, even before all of the results were presented.

Of course, we have to remember that we are just getting started, and that as result there is plenty that is unsettled. Does this “Higgs particle” have the right branching fractions? Right now, it seems to have trouble decaying to taus…or perhaps that’s just a downward fluctuation in the data. Does it have the correct spin and parity? We’re going to need more data to answer that. And ultimately, we have to remember that the Higgs is “just a standard model particle,” as a colleague said to me last year. Even if this is the Higgs we were looking for, it still leaves a lot unexplained, as Flip discussed (more elegantly than I would) in a recent post. We think that there must be something out there that helps it have the mass that it has.

After my visit to the Sydney Opera House yesterday, I went to see the Bienniale of Sydney, a contemporary art exhibition that is going on all over the city. While I was looking at one of the larger installations, a docent explained that it had taken a large team of people five weeks to install it. The artist had said that that effort in itself was a work of art. I would have to say the same of the observation of the Higgs boson — it has taken thousands of people, from all over the world and with a great variety of skills, many years to bring us to this day. And yes, that interaction too is a work of art. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, by Henry James: “We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

(with apologies to Ewa Partum)

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  • César

    Hi, first of all I gotta tell you I’m a big fan of your work at the LHC. I gotta admit that, due to spiritual reasons I’m a little uncomfortable with the name “the God Particle”, but nevertheless I’m pretty excited about the discovery. I have a couple of questions. First, what could be the possible implications of the discovery in terms of practical physics?. Second, how does the higgs boson discovery relates with many of the intergalactic travels dilemmas? Third, and this might be really nerd but bare with me, how does the higgs boson relates to the ideas of Warp Drive of Gravitational engines for intergalatic travels?

    Thanks for the reply

  • Geologey Lovell Facebook

    I sure wanted to trump your discovery by finding something under ground where you scattered all the letters but! There was no coins no lost objects etc . except where the words Higgs at the end of it there might have been something ? But objects have to be under ground for a very long time before they become visible for me. Too bad , I know I could not trump this but you got me going when you said here is what a discovery look like while you all ignore mine.
    Om my Facebook

  • Xezlec

    Cesar:

    Fortunately, that’s not its name. It’s called the higgs boson. The awful and unfitting nickname “the god particle” is media hype invented by a book publisher. Physicists despise it with a passion.

    I don’t think this discovery has anything to do with technology, if that’s what you’re asking. Some physicists will say that it’s possible that someday someone will find a use for this information that no one has thought of yet, but I doubt it. The main benefits of this kind of research are the spinoffs: technology used to build and operate the collider itself, and of course training the next generation of physicists. That’s just my opinion though.

    As far as I know, there is no connection between the higgs and space travel. I’m not sure what you’re getting at there.

  • César

    Thanks a lot for the quick reply. It’s actually pretty cool that the original name was not that tasteless name chosen by the press. Well, I was actually really excited about this discovery because I’m great fan of Glenn Research Center’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics project (http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/bpp/). According to the info in this site, one of the many speculated alternatives for interstellar travels is Gravity control. According to the site:
    “First, we do know that gravity and electromagnetism are linked phenomena. We are quite adept at controlling electromagnetic phenomena, so one can presume that such a connection might eventually lead to using our control of electromagnetism to control gravity. General Relativity, another one of Einstein’s doings, is one way to describe such connections. Another way is through new theories from quantum mechanics that link gravity and inertia to something called “vacuum fluctuations.”” (http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/technology/warp/gravstat.html).So this paragraph led me to belive that, since Higgs Boson is all about discovering how the electromagnetic force and the weaker force interact with matter, I was assuming that understanding Higgs Boson was one step ahead in the search of using our control over electromagnetism to control gravity.

    Of course this assumptions are surely going to be flawed since I’m not a Physics scholar, rather I’m just a fan of technology and science issues like the experiments that are conducted at the LHC. If you could please give some insights about the real impact of the Higgs Boson discovery I’d really appreciate it!

    Thanks!