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Posts Tagged ‘Higgs boson’

Update: Section added to include LEP11 Results on Higgs Boson Exclusion (01 Sept 2011)

Expect bold claims at this week’s SUSY 2011 (#SUSY11 on Twitter, maybe) Conference at Fermilab, in Batavia, Illinois. No, I do not have any secret information about some analysis that undoubtedly proves Supersymmetry‘s existence; though, it would be pretty cool if such an analysis does exist. I say this because I came back from a short summer school/pre-conference that gave a very thorough introduction to the mathematical framework behind a theory that supposes that there exists a new and very powerful relationship between particles that make up matter, like electrons & quarks (fermions), and particles that mediate the forces in our universe, like photons & gluons (bosons). This theory is called “Supersymmetry”, or “SUSY” for short, and might explain many of the shortcomings of our current description of how Nature works.

At this summer school, appropriately called PreSUSY 2011, we were additionally shown the amount of data that the Large Hadron Collider is expected to collect before the end of this year and at the end of 2012. This is where the game changer appeared. Back in June 2011, CERN announced that it had collected 1 fb-1 (1 inverse femtobarn) worth of data – the equivalent of 70,000 billion proton-proton collisions – a whole six months ahead of schedule. Yes, the Large Hadron Collider generated a year’s worth of data in half a year’s time. What is more impressive is that the ATLAS and CMS experiments may each end up collecting upwards of 5 fb-1 before the end of this year, a benchmark number a large number of people said would be a “highly optimistic goal” for 2012. I cannot emphasize how crazy & surreal it is to be seriously discussing the possibility of having 10 fb-1, or even 15 fb-1, by the end of 2012.

Figure 1: Up-to-date record of the total number of protons collisions delivered to each of the Large Hadron Collider Detector Experiments. (Image: CERN)

What this means is that by the end of this year, not next year, we will definitely know whether or not the higgs boson, as predicted by the Standard Model, exists. It also means that by next year, experimentalists will be able to rule out the most basic versions of Supersymmetry which were already ruled out by previous, high-precision measurements of previously known (electroweak) physics. Were we to find Supersymmetry at the LHC now and not when the LHC is at designed specifications, which are expected to be reached in 2014, then many physicists would be at a loss trying to rectify why one set of measurements rule out SUSY but another set of measurements support its existence.

What we can expect this week, aside from the usual higgs boson and SUSY exclusion plots, are a set of updated predictions as to where we expect to be this time next year. Now that the LHC has given us more data than we had anticipated we can truly explore the unknown, so trust me when I say that the death of SUSY has been greatly exaggerated.

More on Higgs Boson Exclusion (Added 01 Sept 2011)

This morning a new BBC article came out on the possibility of the higgs being found by Christmas. So why not add some plots, shown at August’s Lepton-Photon 2011 Conference, that show this? These plots were taken from Vivek Sharma’s Higgs Searches at CMS talk.

If there is no Standard Model higgs boson, then the Compact Muon Solenoid Detector, one of the two general purpose LHC detectors, should be able to exclude the boson, singlehandedly, with a 95% Confidence Level. ATLAS, the second of the two general purpose detectors, is similarly capable of such an exclusion.

Figure A: The CMS Collaboration projected sensitivity to excluding the higgs boson with 5 fb-1 at √s = 7 TeV; the black line gives combined (total) sensitivity.

Things get less clear if there is a higgs boson because physical & statistical fluctuations adds to our uncertainty. If CMS does collect 5 fb-1 before the winter shutdown, then it is capable of claiming at least a 3σ (three-sigma) discovery for a higgs boson with a mass anywhere between mH≈ 120 GeV/c2 and mH ≈ 550 GeV/c2 . For a number of (statistical/systematic) reasons, the range might shrink or expand with 5 fb-1 worth of data but only by a few GeV/c2. In statistics, “σ” (sigma) is the Greek letter that represents a standard deviation; a “3σ result” implies that there is only a 0.3% chance of being a fluke. The threshold for discovery is set at 5σ, or a 0.000 06% of being a random fluke.

Figure B: The CMS Collaboration projected sensitivity to discovering the higgs boson with 1 (black), 2 (brown?), 5 (blue), and 10 (pink)  fb-1 at √s = 7 TeV.

By itself, the CMS detector is no longer sensitive. By combing their results, however, a joint ATLAS-CMS combined analysis can do the full 3σ discovery and a 5σ job down to 128 GeV/c2. The 114 GeV/c2 benchmark that physicists like to throw around is lower bound on the higgs boson mass set by CERN’s LEP Collider, which shutdown in 2000 to make room for the LHC.

Figure C: The projected sensitivity of a joint ATLAS-CMS analysis for SM higgs exclusion & discovery for various benchmark data sets.

However, there are two caveat in all of this. The smaller one is that these results depend on another 2.5 fb-1 being delivered by the upcoming winter shutdown; if there are any more major halts in data collection, then the mark will be missed. The second, and more serious, caveat is that this whole time I have been talking about the Standard Model higgs boson, which has a pretty rigid set of assumptions. If there is new physics, then all these discovery/exclusion bets are off. 🙂

Nature’s Little Secrets

On my way to PreSUSY, a good colleague of mine & I decided to stop by Fermilab to visit a friend and explore the little secret nooks that makes Fermilab, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the world (keep in mind, I really love the Musée d’Orsay). What makes Fermilab such an gorgeous place is that is doubles as a federally sanctioned nature preserve! From bison to butterflies, the lab protects endangered or near-endangered habitats while simultaneously reaching back to the dawn of the Universe. Here is a little photographic tour of some of Nature’s best kept secrets. All the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them. Enjoy!

Figure 2: The main entrance to the Enrico Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy Laboratory Designation: FNAL, nicknamed Fermilab. The three-way arch that does not connect evenly at the top is called Broken Symmetry and appropriately represents the a huge triumph of Theoretical (Solid State & High Energy) Physics: Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking. Wilson Hall, nicknamed “The High-Rise” can be see in the background. (Image: Mine).

Figure 3: Wilson Hall, named after FNAL’s first director and Manhattan Project Scientist Robert Wilson, is where half of Fermilab’s magic happens. Aside from housing all the theorists & being attached to the Tevatron Control Room, it also houses a second control room for the CMS Detector called the Remote Operations Center. Yes, the CMS Detector can be fully controlled from Fermilab. The photo was taken from the center of the Tevatron ring. (Image: Mine)

Figure 4: A wetlands preserve located at the center of the Tevatron accelerator ring. The preservation has been so successful at restoring local fish that people with an Illinois fishing license (See FAQ) are actually allowed to fish. From what I have been told, the fish are exceptionally delicious the closer you get to the Main Ring. I wonder if it has anything to do with all that background neutrino rad… never mind. 🙂
Disclaimer: The previous line was a joke; the radiation levels at Fermilab are well within safety limits! (Image: Mine)

Figure 5: The Feynman Computing Center (left) and BZero (right), a.k.a., The CDF Detector Collision Hall. The Computing Center, named after the late Prof. Richard Feynman, cannot be justly compared to any other data center, except with maybe CERN‘s computing center. Really, there is so much experimental computer research, custom built electronics, and such huge processing power that there are no benchmarks that allows for it to be compared. Places like Fermilab and CERN set the benchmarks. The Collider Detector at Fermilab, or CDF for short, is one of two general purpose detectors at Fermilab that collects and analyzes the decay products of proton & anti-proton collisions. Magic really does happen in that collision hall. (Image: Mine)

Figure 6: The DZero Detector Collision Hall (blue building, back), Tevatron Colling River (center) , and Collision Hall Access Road (foreground). Like CDF (Figure 5), DZero is one of two general-purpose detectors at Fermilab that collects and analyzes the decay products of proton & anti-proton collisions. There is no question that the Tevatron generates a lot of heat. It was determined long ago that by taking advantage of the area’s annual rainfall and temperature the operating costs of running the collider could be drastically cut by using naturally replenishable source of water to cool the collider. If there were ever a reason to invest in a renewable energy source, this would be it. The access road doubles as a running/biking track for employees and site visitors. If you run, one question that is often asked by other scientists is if you are a proton or anti-proton. The anti-protons travel clockwise in the Main Ring and hence you are called an anti-proton if you bike/run with the anti-protons; the protons travel counter-clockwise. FYI: I am an anti-proton. (Image: Mine)

Figure 7: The Barn (red barn, right) and American bison pen (fence, foreground). Fermilab was built on prairie land and so I find it every bit appropriate that the laboratory does all it can to preserve an important part of America’s history, i.e., forging the Great American Frontier. Such a legacy of expanding to the unknown drives Fermilab’s mantra of being an “Ongoing Pioneer of Exploring the Frontier of Discovery.” (Image: Mine)

Figure 8: American bison (bison bison) in the far background (click to enlarge). At the time of the photo, a few calves had just recently been born. (Image: Mine)


Happy Colliding.


– richard (@bravelittlemuon)




What If It’s Not The Higgs?

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

Updated: Monday, 2011 August 29, to clarify shape of angular distribution plots.

It’s the $10 billion question: If experimentalists do discover a bump at the Large Hadron Collider, does it have to be the infamous higgs boson? Not. One. Bit. Plainly and simply, if the ATLAS & CMS collaborations find something at the end of this year it will take a little more data to know we are definitely dealing with a higgs boson. Okay, I suppose I should back up a little an add some context. 🙂

The Standard Model of Particle Physics (or SM for short) is the name for the very well established theory that explains how almost everything in the Universe works, from a physics perspective at least. The fundamental particles that make up the SM, and hence our Universe, are shown in figure 1 and you can learn all about them by clicking on the hyperlink a sentence back. Additionally, this short Guardian article does a great job explaining fermions & bosons.

Fig 1. The Standard Model is composed of elementary particles, which are the fundamental building blocks of the Universe, and rules dictating how the particles interact. The fundamental building blocks are known as fermions and the particles which mediate interactions between fermions are called bosons. (Image: AAAS)

As great as the Standard Model is, it is not perfect. In fact, the best way to describe the theory is to say that it is incomplete. Three phenomena that are not fully explained, among many, are: (1) how do fermions (blue & green boxes in figure 1) obtain their mass; (2) why is there so little antimatter (or so much matter) in the Universe; and (3) how does gravity work at the nanoscopic scale? These are pretty big questions and over the years theorists have come up with some pretty good ideas.

The leading explanation for how fermions (blue & green boxes in figure 1) have mass is called the Higgs Mechanism and it predicts that there should be a new particle called the higgs boson (red box at bottom of figure 1). Physicist believe that the Higgs Mechanism may explain the fermion masses is because this same mechanism very accurately predicts the masses for the other bosons (red boxes in figure 1). It is worth nothing that when using the Higgs Mechanism to explain the masses of the bosons, no new particle is predicted.

Unfortunately, the leading explanations for the huge disparity between matter & antimatter, as well as a theory of gravity at the quantum level, have not been as successful. Interestingly, all three types of  theories (the Higgs Mechanism, matter/antimatter, and quantum gravity) generally predict the existence of a new boson, namely, the higgs boson, the Z’ boson (pronounced: zee prime), and the graviton. A key property that distinguishes each type of boson from the others is the intrinsic angular momentum they each carry. The higgs boson does not carry any, so we call it a “spin 0” boson; the Z’ boson carries a specific amount, so it is called a “spin 1” boson; and the graviton carries precisely twice as much angular momenta as the Z’ boson, so the graviton is called a “spin 2” boson. This will be really important in a few paragraphs but quickly let’s jump back to the higgs story.

Fig 2. Feynman Diagrams representing a higgs boson (left), Z’ boson (center), and graviton (right)
decaying into a b quark (b) & anti-b quark (b).

In July, at the European Physics Society conference, the CDF & DZero Experiments, associated with the Tevatron Collider in Illinois, USA, and the CMS & ATLAS Experiments, associated with the Large Hadron Collider, in Geneva, Switzerland, reported their latest results in the search for the higgs boson. The surprising news was that it might have been found but we will not know for sure until the end of 2011/beginning of 2012.

This brings us all the way back to our $10/€7 billion question: If the experiments have found something, how do we know that it is the higgs boson and not a Z’ boson or a graviton? Now I want to be clear: It is insanely unlikely that the new discovery is a Z’ or a graviton, if there is a new discovery at all. If something has been been discovered, chances are it is the higgs boson but how do we know?

Now, here is where awesome things happen.

The Solution.

In all three cases, the predicted boson can decay into a b quark (b) & anti-b quark (b) pair, which you can see in the Feynman diagrams in figure 2. Thanks to the Law of Conservation of Momentum, we can calculate the angle between each quark and the boson. Thanks to the well-constructed detectors at the Large Hadron Collider and the Tevatron, we can measure the angle between each quark and the boson. The point is that the angular distribution (the number of quarks observed per angle)  is different for spin 0 (higgs), spin 1 (Z’), and spin 2 (graviton) bosons!

To show this, I decided to use a computer program to simulate how we expect angular distributions for a higgs → bb, a Z’→ bb, and a graviton → bb to look. Below are three pairs of plots: the ones to the left show the percentage of b (or b) quarks we expect at a particular angle, with respect to the decaying boson; the ones on the right show the percentage of quarks we expect at the cosine (yes, the trigonometric cosine) of the particular angle.


Figure 3. The angular distribution (left) and cosine of the angular distribution (right) for the higgs (spin-0) boson, mH = 140 GeV/c2. 50K* events generated using PYTHIA MSUB(3).

Figure 4. The angular distribution (left) and cosine of the angular distribution (right) for a Z’ (spin-1) boson, mZ’ = 140 GeV/c2. 50K* events generated using PYTHIA MSUB(141).

Figure 5. The angular distribution (left) and cosine of the angular distribution (right) for a graviton (spin-2) boson, mG = 140 GeV/c2. 40K* events generated using PYTHIA MSUB(391), i.e., RS Graviton.

Thanks to the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum, the intrinsic angular momenta held by the spin 0 (higgs), spin 1 (Z’), and spin 2 (graviton) force the quarks to decay preferentially at some angles and almost forbid other angles. Consequentially, the angular distribution for the higgs boson (spin 0) will give one giant hump around 90°; for the Z’ boson will have two humps at 60° and 120°; and the graviton (spin 2) will have three humps at 30°, 90°, and 150°. Similarly in the cosine distribution: the spin-0 higgs boson has no defining peak; the spin-1 Z’ boson has two peaks; and the spin-2 graviton has three peaks!

In other words, if it smells like a higgs, looks like a higgs, spins like a higgs, then my money is on the higgs.

A Few Words About The Plots

I have been asked by a reader if I could comment a bit on the shape and apparent symmetry in the angular distribution plots, both of which are extremely well understood. When writing the post, I admittedly glossed over these really important features because I was pressed to finish the post before traveling down to Chicago for a short summer school/conference, so I am really excited that I was asked about this.

At the Large Hadron Collider, we collide protons head-on. Since the protons are nicely aligned (thanks to the amazing people who actually operate the collider), we can consistently and uniformly label the direction through which the protons travel. In our case, let’s have a proton that come from the left be proton A and a proton that comes from the right be proton B. With this convention, proton A is traveling along what I call the “z-axis”; if proton A were to shoot vertically up toward the top of this page it would be traveling along the “x-axis”; and if it were to travel out of the computer screen toward you, the reader, the proton would be traveling in the “y direction” (or along the “y-axis”). The angle between the z-axis and the x-axis (or z-axis and the y-axis) is called θ (pronounced: theta). You can take a look at figure 6 for a nice little cartoon of the coordinate system I just described to you.

Figure 6: A coordinate system in which proton A (pA) is traveling along the z-axis and proton B (pB) in the negative z direction. The angle θ is measure as the angle between the z-axis and the x-axis, or equally, between the z-axis and the y-axis.

When the quarks (spin 1/2) inside a proton collide to become a higgs (spin 0), Z’ (spin 1), or graviton (spin 2), angular momentum must always be conserved. The simplest way for a quark in proton A and a quark in proton B to make a higgs boson is for the quarks to spin opposite directions, while still traveling along the z-axis, so that their spins cancel out, i.e., spin 1/2 – spin 1/2 = spin 0. This means that the higgs boson (spin 0) does not have any angular momentum constraints when decaying into two b-quarks and thus the cosine of the angle between the two b-quarks should be roughly flat and uniform. This is a little hard to see in figure 3 (right) because, as my colleague pointed out, the resolution in my plots are too small. (Thanks, Zhen!)

Turning to the Z’ boson (spin 1) case, protons A & B can generate a spin 1 particle most easily when their quarks, again while traveling along the z-axis, are spinning in the same direction, i.e., spin 1/2 + spin 1/2 = spin 1. Consequentially, the spin 1 Z’ boson and its decay products, unlike the higgs boson (spin 0), are required to conserve 1 unit of angular momentum. This happens most prominently when the two b-quarks (1) push against each other in opposite directions or (2) travel in the same direction. Therefore, the cosine of the angle made by the b-quarks is dominantly -1 or +1. If we allow for quantum mechanical fluctuations, caused by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, then we should also expect b-quarks to sometimes decay with a cosine greater than -1 and less than +1. See figure 4 (right).

The spin 2 graviton can similarly be explained but with a key difference. The spin 2 graviton is special because like the Z’ boson (spin 1) it can have 1 unit of angular momentum, but unlike Z’ boson (spin 1) it can also have 2 units of angular momenta. To produce a graviton with 2 units of angular momenta, rarer processes that involve the W & Z bosons (red W & Z in figure 1) must occur. This allows the final-state b-quarks to decay with a cosine of 0, which explains the slight enhancement in figure 5 (right).

It is worth noting that the reason why I have been discussing the cosine of the angle between the the quarks and not the angle itself is because the cosine is what we physicists calculate and measure. The cosine of an angle, or equally sine of an angle, amplify subtle differences between particle interactions and can at times be easier to calculate & measure.

The final thing I want to say about the angular distributions is probably the coolest thing ever, better than figuring out the spin of a particle. Back in the 1920s, when Quantum Mechanics was first proposed, people were unsure about a keystone of the theory, namely the simultaneous particle and wave nature of matter. We know bosons definitely behave like particles because they can collide and decay. That wavy/oscillatory behavior you see in the plots are exactly that: wavy/oscillatory behavior. No classical object will decay into particles with a continuous distribution; no classical has ever been found to do so nor do we expect to find one, at least according to our laws of classical physics. This wave/particle/warticle behavior is a purely quantum physics effect and would be an indicator that Quantum Mechanics is correct at the energy scale being probed by the Large Hadron Collider. 🙂


Happy Colliding.

– richard (@bravelittlemuon)

PS I apologize if some things are a little unclear or confusing. I traveling this weekend and have not had time to fully edit this post. If you have a question or want me to clarify something, please, feel free to write a comment.

PPS If you are going to be at the PreSUSY Summer School in Chicago next week, feel free to say hi!

*A note on the plots: I simulated several tens of thousands of events for clarity. According to my calculations, it would take four centuries to generate 40,000 gravitons, assuming the parameters I chose. In reality, the physicists can make the same determination as we did with fewer than four years worth of data.


The combined Tevatron results exclude the existence of a Higgs particle with a mass between 100-108 and 156-177 GeV/c2. For the range 110-155 GeV/c2, the experiments are now extremely close to the sensitivity needed (dotted line below 1) either to see a substantial excess of Higgs-like events or to rule out the existence of the particle. The small excess of Higgs-like events observed by the Tevatron experiments in the range from 120 to 155 (see solid curve) is not yet statistically significant.

Scientists of the CDF and DZero collaborations at Fermilab continue to increase the sensitivity of their Tevatron experiments to the Higgs particle and narrow the range in which the particle seems to be hiding. At the European Physical Society conference in Grenoble, Fermilab physicist Eric James reported today that together the CDF and DZero experiments now can exclude the existence of a Higgs particle in the 100-108 and the 156-177 GeV/c2 mass ranges, expanding exclusion ranges that the two experiments had reported in March 2011.

Last Friday, the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the European center for particle physics, CERN, reported their first exclusion regions. The two experiments exclude a Higgs particle with a mass of about 150 to 450 GeV/c2, confirming the Tevatron exclusion range and extending it to higher masses that are beyond the reach of the Tevatron. Even larger Higgs masses are excluded on theoretical grounds.

This leaves a narrow window for the Higgs particle, and the Tevatron experiments are on track to collect enough data by the end of September 2011 to close this window if the Higgs particle does not exist.

James reported that the Tevatron experiments are steadily becoming more sensitive to Higgs processes that the LHC experiments will not be able to measure for some time. In particular, the Tevatron experiments can look for the decay of a Higgs particle into a pair of bottom and anti-bottom quark which are the dominant, hard-to-detect decay mode of the Higgs particle. In contrast, the ATLAS and CMS experiments currently focus on the search for the decay of a Higgs particle into a pair of W bosons, which then decay into lighter particles.

This graph shows the improvement in the combined sensitivity of the CDF and DZero experiments to a Higgs signal over the last couple of years. When the sensitivity for a particular value of the Higgs mass, mH, drops below one, scientists expect the Tevatron experiments to be able to rule out a Higgs particle with that particular mass. By early 2012, the Tevatron experiments should be able to corroborate or rule out a Higgs particle with a mass between 100 to about 190 GeV/c2.

The LHC experiments reported at the EPS conference an excess of Higgs-like events in the 120-150 GeV/c2 mass region at about the 2-sigma level. The Tevatron experiments have seen a small, 1-sigma excess of Higgs-like events in this region for a couple of years. A 3-sigma level is considered evidence for a new result, but particle physicists prefer a 5-sigma level to claim a discovery. More data and better analyses are necessary to determine whether these excesses are due to a Higgs particle, some new phenomena or random data fluctuations.

In early July, before the announcement of the latest Tevatron and LHC results, a global analysis of particle physics data by the GFitter group indicated that, in the simplest Higgs model, the Higgs particle should have a mass between approximately 115 and 137 GeV/c2.

“To have confidence in having found the Higgs particle that theory predicts, you need to analyze the various ways it interacts with other particles,” said Giovanni Punzi, co-spokesperson of the CDF experiment. “If there really is a Higgs boson hiding in this region, you should be able to find its decay into a bottom-anti-bottom pair. Otherwise, the result could be a statistical fluctuation, or some different particle lurking in your data.”

The CDF and DZero experiments will continue to take data until the Tevatron shuts down at the end of September.

“The search for the Higgs particle in its bottom and anti-bottom quark decay mode really has been the strength of the Tevatron,” said Dmitri Denisov, DZero co-spokesperson

“With the additional data and further improvements in our analysis tools, we expect to be sensitive to the Higgs particle for the entire mass range that has not yet been excluded. We should be able to exclude the Higgs particle or see first hints of its existence in early 2012.”

The details of the CDF and DZero analysis are described in this note, which will be posted later today, as well as submitted to the arXiv.

—Kurt Riesselmann


This article first appeared in symmetry breaking July 22.

Editor’s note:  The LHC experiments reported at the EPS meeting a tantalizing excess of Higgs-like events, short of claiming a discovery, but very intriguing nevertheless. See the Higgs search at the LHC section further below for more information on these results.

 The LHC experiments reported at the EPS meeting a tantalizing excess of Higgs-like events, short of claiming a discovery, but very intriguing nevertheless. See the Higgs search at the LHC section further below for more information on these results.

Experiments at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the European particle physics center, CERN, are zooming in on the final remaining mass region where the Higgs particle might be lurking. Over the next seven days, Fermilab’s CDF and DZero collaborations and CERN’s ATLAS and CMS collaborations will announce their latest Higgs search results at the High-Energy Physics conference of the European Physical Society.

Scientists at Fermilab and CERN employ very similar methods to create the Higgs: accelerate particles to high energy using the world’s most powerful accelerators, the Tevatron (1 TeV beam energy) and the Large Hadron Collider (3.5 TeV), smash the particles together, and sift through the large number of new particles emerging from these collisions. But to find a Higgs particle among the many particles created, the teams of scientists are focusing on different signals (see below).

If the Higgs particle exists and has the properties predicted by the simplest Higgs model, named after Scottish physicist Peter Higgs, then the colliders at Fermilab and CERN already must have produced Higgs particles. But finding the tell-tale sign of a Higgs boson among all other particle signatures is like searching for a drop of ink in an ocean. Only if the accelerators produce more and more collisions do scientists stand a chance of finding enough evidence for the Higgs particle.

Where to look

The Higgs mechanism, developed in the 1960s by several independent groups of theorists, explains why some fundamental particles have mass and others don’t. Its mathematical framework fits perfectly into one of the most successful theories in science: the Standard Model of elementary particles and forces.

Experimenters sifting through data from one experiment after another have come up empty-handed; instead they have ruled out larger and larger swaths of potential Higgs territory. An analysis by the GFitter group of precision measurements and the direct and indirect constraints on the Higgs mass indicates that, in the simplest Higgs model, the Higgs particle should have a mass between approximately 115 and 137 billion electron volts (GeV)/c2, or about 100 times the mass of a proton.

Higgs search at the Tevatron

At Fermilab’s Tevatron, scientists attempt to produce Higgs particles by smashing together protons and antiprotons, composite particles that comprise elementary building blocks. When a proton and antiproton hit each other at high energy, scientists observe the collisions and interactions of these components, such as quarks, antiquarks and gluons. Those subatomic collisions transform energy into new particles that can be heavier than the protons themselves, as predicted by Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2.

At the Tevatron, which makes protons and antiprotons collide, scientists focus on finding signs for the decay of the Higgs particle into a bottom quark and anti-bottom quark.

At the Tevatron, which makes protons and antiprotons collide, scientists focus on finding signs for the decay of the Higgs particle into a bottom quark and anti-bottom quark.
Tevatron scientists have carried out detailed simulations of such collisions and found that the best chance for producing, say, a 120-GeV Higgs boson at the Tevatron are quark-antiquark collisions that create a high-energy W boson (see graphic). This W boson has a chance to spend its extra energy to generate a short-lived Higgs boson. The W boson and the Higgs boson would then decay into lighter particles that can be caught and identified by the CDF and DZero particle detectors, which surround the two proton-antiproton collision points of the Tevatron.

According to the Standard Model, such a 120-GeV Higgs boson will decay 68 percent of the time into a bottom quark and anti-bottom quark. But other collision processes and particle decays also produce bottom and anti-bottom quarks. Identifying an excess of these particles due to the decay of the Higgs boson is the best chance for Tevatron scientists to discover or rule out a Standard Model Higgs.

At the EPS conference, CDF and DZero will report (see press release) that, for the first time, the two collaborations have successfully applied well-established techniques used to search for the Higgs boson to observe extremely rare collisions that produce pairs of heavy bosons (WW or WZ) that decay into heavy quarks. This well-known process closely mimics the production of a W boson and a Higgs particle, with the Higgs decaying into a bottom quark and antiquark.

Higgs search at the LHC

At the LHC, located on the French-Swiss border, scientists smash protons into protons. Because the LHC operates at higher collision energies than the Tevatron, each collision produces on average many more particles than a collision at the Tevatron. In particular, the LHC floods its particle detectors with bottom and anti-bottom quarks created by many different types of subatomic processes. Hence it becomes more difficult than at the Tevatron to find this particular “ink in the ocean”—an excess of bottom and anti-bottom quarks in the LHC data due to the Higgs particle.

At the EPS conference, the ATLAS scientists showed that they should have been able to exclude a Higgs boson with mass between 130 and 200 GeV/c2, but instead the collaboration saw an excess of events in the 130 to 155 GeV/c2 range, as reported by ATLAS physicist Jon Butterworth in his blog at the Guardian. It could be a fluctuation, but it could also be the first hint of a Higgs signal. Geoff Brumfiel writes for Nature News that the CMS experiment also sees an excess in the 130 to 150 GeV/c2 range. (CMS physicist Tommaso Dorigo has posted the relevant CMS Higgs search plots in his blog.) Combined, the two LHC experiments should have enough data by the end of this summer to say whether this excess is real or not. The Tevatron experiments are getting close to being sensitive to a Higgs particle near 150 GeV as well. Here is the new DZero result: the dotted line, which indicates sensitivity, is approaching 1 near 150 GeV, but the solid line, which is the actual observation, is significantly below 1, yet it differs from the expectation only at the 1 to 1.5 sigma level. Bottom line: DZero scientists cannot exclude a Higgs boson in this range. And here is the new CDF result: Again, for a Higgs mass of about 150 GeV/c2, the sensitivity approaches 1, and the observed Higgs constraints agree well with the expectations. (Note that DZero shows 1-sensitivity and CDF shows sensitivity; that’s why the CDF curve is above 1.) On Wednesday, July 27, CDF and DZero will present their combined results for this mass range at the EPS conference. The sensitivity of the combined CDF and DZero results will be even closer to 1 at 150 GeV/c2.

At the Large Hadron Collider, which smashes protons into protons, scientists focus on finding signs for the decay of the Higgs particle into two photons.

At the Large Hadron Collider, which smashes protons into protons, scientists focus on finding signs for the decay of the Higgs particle into two photons.

For a light Higgs boson, LHC scientists focus on a very different Higgs production and decay process, complementary to the Higgs search at the Tevatron. Detailed simulations of high-energy proton-proton collisions have shown that the best chance to catch, say, a 120-GeV Standard Model Higgs particle at the LHC is to look for a Higgs boson emerging from the collision of two gluons, followed by its decay into two high-energy gamma rays (see second graphic). This is an extremely rare process since the Higgs boson doesn’t interact directly with the massless gluons and gamma rays. Instead, the Higgs production and decay occur through intermediate, massive quark-antiquark loops, which can temporarily appear in subatomic processes, in accordance with the laws of quantum mechanics. The intermediate loop, however, makes this process much rarer to occur. In particular, the decay of a 120-GeV Standard Model Higgs boson into two gamma rays happens only once out of 500 times. Hence LHC scientists will need to gather a sufficiently large number of proton-proton collisions to observe this process.

Why do physicists think that the Higgs particle exists?

The discovery in the 1980s of heavy, force-carrying particles, known as W and Z bosons, confirmed crucial predictions made by the Standard Model and the simplest Higgs model. Since then, further discoveries and precision measurements of particle interactions have confirmed the validity of the Standard Model many times. It now seems almost impossible to explain the wealth of particle data without the Higgs mechanism. But one crucial ingredient of this fabulous particle recipe—the Higgs boson itself—has remained at large. Does it exist? How heavy is it? Does it interact with quarks and other massive particles as expected? These questions will keep scientists busy for years to come.

Want to learn more about what the Higgs particle is and how it gives mass to some particles? Watch this 3-minute video.

Kurt Riesselmann


The CDF detector at Fermilab. Credit: Fermilab/ Reidar Hahn

Wednesday afternoon, the CDF collaboration announced that it has evidence of a peak in a specific sample of its data. The peak is an excess of particle collision events that produce a W boson accompanied by two hadronic jets. This peak showed up in a mass region where we did not expect one. The peak was observed in the 140 GeV/c2 mass range, as shown in the plot above. It is the kind of peak in a plot that, if confirmed, scientists associate with the existence of a particle. The significance of this excess was determined to be 3.2 sigma, after accounting for the effect of systematic uncertainties. This means that there is less than a 1 in 1375 chance that the effect is mimicked by a statistical fluctuation. Particle physicists consider a result at 5.0 sigma to be a discovery.

The excess might be explained by the production of a new, unknown particle that is not predicted by the Standard Model, the current standard theory of the fundamental laws of physics. The features of this excess exclude the possibility that this peak might be due to a Standard Model Higgs boson or a supersymmetric particle. Instead, we might see a completely new type of force or interaction. A few models proposed and developed in recent years postulate the existence of new fundamental interactions beyond those known today, which would create an excess similar to the one seen in the CDF data. That’s why everybody at CDF is excited about this result.

The di-jet invariant mass distribution for candidate events selected in an analysis of W+2 jet events. The black points represent the data. The red line plots the expected Standard Model background shape based on Monte Carlo modeling. The red shading shows the systematic and statistical uncertainty on this background shape. The blue histogram is the Gaussian fit to the unexpected peak centered at 144 GeV/c2

The alternative explanation for this excess would be that we need to reconsider the theory that is used to predict the background spectrum, which is based on standard particle physics processes. That possibility, albeit less glamorous, would still have important implications. Those calculations use theoretical tools that are generally regarded as reliable and well understood, and form the basis of many other predictions in particle physics. Questioning these tools would require us to challenge our understanding of the fundamental forces of nature, the foundation of particle physics.

The current analysis is based on 4.3 inverse femtobarns of data. The CDF collaboration will repeat the analysis with at least twice as much data to see whether the bump gets more or less pronounced. Other experiments, including DZero and the LHC experiments, will look for a particle of about 140 GeV/c2 in their data as well. Their results will either refute or confirm our result. Our result has been submitted to Physical Review Letters. You can read the paper and watch the lecture online.

It remains to be seen whether this measurement is an important indication of long-awaited new physics beyond the Standard Model.

— Edited by Rob Roser and Giovanni Punzi

Several interesting articles have been written about the result. Media interest was generated after a thesis article was spotted in an academic journal.  Gordon Watts has an intriguing blog post about how the release of scientific information is and could be affected by today’s fast-paced, Internet-driven society. This could bring people into the scientific process before an analysis has been fully vetted or enough data has been complied and analyzed to declare something a discovery by reaching the 5-sigma  threshold. Do you think that is a good or bad thing?

Related stories:

USLHC blog: A hint of something new in “W+dijets” at CDF

New York Times: At Particle Lab, a Tantalizing Glimpse Has Physicists Holding Their Breaths

Nature:  The Tevatron claims possible glimpse of physics beyond the standard model

Jakarta Globe:  US atom smasher may have found new force of nature


 To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Discover magazine created a list of the The 12 Most Important Trends in Science Over the Past 30 Years. High-energy particle physics and Fermilab played a part in three of these 12 game-changing research break throughs. Here’s a look at these Discover-selected trends and Fermilab’s contributions to them.

 Trend: The Web Takes Over

Pictured is Fermilab's 2001 home page, which was designed in 1996. Twenty years ago, Fermilab helped to pioneer the URL. It launched one of the first Web sites in the country in 1992. Credit: Fermilab

The first concept for what would become the World Wide Web was proposed by a high-energy particle physicist in 1989 to help physicists on international collaborations share large amounts of data. The first WWW system was created for high-energy physicists in 1991 under the guidance of CERN. 

A year later, Fermilab became the second institution in the United States to launch a website. It also helped initiate the switch easy-to-remember domain name addresses rather than Internet Protocol addresses, which are a string of numbers. This switch helped spur the growth of the Internet and WWW.

Particle physics also secured a place in sports history through its computing savvy. A softball club at CERN, composed of mostly visiting European and American physicists, many connected to Fermilab, was the first ball club in the world to have a page on the World Wide Web, beating out any team from Major League Baseball.

Trend: Universe on a Scale

The field of cosmology has advanced and created a more precise understanding of the evolution and nature of the universe. This has brought high-energy particle physics, cosmology and astronomy closer together. They have begun to overlap in the key areas of dark energy, dark matter and the evolution of the universe.  Discover magazine cites as being particularly noteworthy in these areas the first precise measurement of cosmic microwave background, or CMB, radiation left over from the Big Bang and the discovery with the aid of supernovas that the  expansion of the universe is accelerating.

Dark Energy Camera under construction at Fermilab. Credit: Fermilab

Fermilab physicists study the CMB with the Q/A Imaging Experiment, or QUIET. They study dark energy with several experiments, most notably the long-running Sloan Digital Sky Survey , the Dark Energy Survey, which will be operational at the end of the year, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, potentially operating at the end of the decade or mid-next decade.  

Trend: Physics Seeks the One

During the last few decades the particle physics community has sought to build a mammoth international machine that can probe the tiniest particles of matter not seen in nature since just after the time of the Big Bang.

Initially, this machine was planned for the United States and named the Superconducting Super Collider. Scientists and engineers from Fermilab help with the design and science suite of experiments for the SSC, which was under construction in Texas until it was canceled in 1993.

A similar machine, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, did take shape, starting operation in 2008. Fermilab played a key role in the design, construction and R&D of the accelerator with expertise garnered through the Tevatron accelerator construction, cutting-edge superconducting magnet technology and project managers.

The U.S. CMS remote operation center at Fermilab. Credit: Fermilab

Fermilab now serves as a remote operation center for CMS, one of the two largest experiments at the LHC. Many physicists work on CMS as well as one of the Tevatron’s detector teams, DZero and CDF.  The United States has the largest national contingent within CMS, accounting for more than 900 physicists in the 3,600-member collaboration.

 Fermilab’s computing division serves as one of two “Tier-1” computing distributions centers in the United States for LHC data. In this capacity, Fermilab provides storage and processing capacity for data collected at the LHC that is analyzed by physicists at Fermilab and sent to U.S. universities for analysis there.

Discover magazine cited as a goal of the LHC the search for the Higgs boson, a theorized particle thought to endow other particles with mass, which allows gravity to act upon them so they can form together to create everything in the visible world, such as people, planets and plants. The LHC and the Tevatron are racing to find the Higgs first. The Tevatron has an advantage searching in the lower mass range and the LHC in the higher mass range. Theorists suspect the Higgs lives in the lower mass range. So far, the Tevatron has greatly narrowed the possible hiding places for the Higgs in this range.

— Tona Kunz


Holiday Peaks

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Holidays at CERN continually take me by surprise.

Between ever-pressing to-do lists, meeting schedules, deadlines, and emails, they just don’t demand the same anticipation — and participation — as they used to. Are there no holiday peaks above my day-to-day background?! Halloween was a 2-sigma deviation in an otherwise unremarkable work-week; Labor Day was observed only in theory; Father’s Day got swamped out by a 3D pixel test beam (sorry, Dad!). I mean, if you look up from your code one Friday and realize you still don’t have a costume for or ticket to the [email protected] Halloween party, and you attempt to print out a Mark Zuckerberg mask to pair with that grungy old hoodie you used to wear, thinking maybe you could crash the party anyway, but the printer on your floor is out of toner, and the IT people are already gone for the weekend, and you could just go to that other party in Geneva where costumes aren’t even mentioned, all you have to do is pay a cover and buy a drink — I mean, physics never sleeps, and it rarely takes a holiday.

Also, for no particular reason, I keep missing holidays by traveling away from the places where they are observed. I spent Memorial Day in Hamburg for a beam telescope workshop at DESY; 4th of July in Paris to visit an old friend; Bastille Day in Cambridge for a conference on advances in radiation detector technology; la Fête de Genève in San Francisco for a summer school on neutrinos; and, most recently, Thanksgiving in Rome to visit another old friend. I didn’t find much in the way of holiday cheer, though I did keep finding the Higgs boson.

Plus, as an American living in Europe, I run into lots of holidays I wouldn’t normally celebrate — or know about in advance. A visit to Paris on May 1st coincided unfortunately with France’s Labor Day, on which even the Louvre was closed. November 5th was Guy Fawkes Day in Britain, which my friends and I celebrated in international company at a British store located in France, complete with fire and fireworks. An upcoming weekend is l’Escalade, a holiday unique to Geneva that commemorates a night four hundred years ago when a hard-working and quick-thinking housewife poured hot soup on an attacking French army and thereby saved the city. Seriously. If the snow clears up (Did I mention that the area has had record-breaking snowfall this week? Winter arrives with a vengeance!), I’ll probably celebrate in Old Town with hot soup and spiced wine. So good.

This post began like a complaint, but it wasn’t meant to be! I fault my opening: I should have written “Holidays at CERN continually surprise me.” It’s true! And without the negative implications and ensuing negative paragraph. (Amazing how that happens…) Yes, some holidays are spent at work, some are spent away, and some aren’t spent at all. Many are spent in unexpected or unconventional ways compared to holidays back in the States. Regardless, sometimes you just have to cut hard on the day-to-day background and celebrate a beautiful holiday peak. Happy Holidays, All!

— Burton 🙂