• John
  • Felde
  • University of Maryland
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • USA

  • James
  • Doherty
  • Open University
  • United Kingdom

Latest Posts

  • Andrea
  • Signori
  • Nikhef
  • Netherlands

Latest Posts

  • CERN
  • Geneva
  • Switzerland

Latest Posts

  • Aidan
  • Randle-Conde
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • Belgium

Latest Posts

  • Vancouver, BC
  • Canada

Latest Posts

  • Laura
  • Gladstone
  • MIT
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Steven
  • Goldfarb
  • University of Michigan

Latest Posts

  • Fermilab
  • Batavia, IL
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Seth
  • Zenz
  • Imperial College London
  • UK

Latest Posts

  • Nhan
  • Tran
  • Fermilab
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Alex
  • Millar
  • University of Melbourne
  • Australia

Latest Posts

  • Ken
  • Bloom
  • USA

Latest Posts

Posts Tagged ‘Higgs Discovery’

Today the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to François Englert (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium) and Peter W. Higgs (University of Edinburgh, UK). The official citation is “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.” What did they do almost 50 years ago that warranted their Nobel Prize today? Let’s see (for the simple analogy see my previous post from yesterday).

The overriding principle of building a theory of elementary particle interactions is symmetry. A theory must be invariant under a set of space-time symmetries (such as rotations, boosts), as well as under a set of “internal” symmetries, the ones that are specified by the model builder. This set of symmetries restrict how particles interact and also puts constraints on the properties of those particles. In particular, the symmetries of the Standard Model of particle physics require that W and Z bosons (particles that mediate weak interactions) must be massless. Since we know they must be massive, a new mechanism that generates those masses (i.e. breaks the symmetry) must be put in place. Note that a theory with massive W’s and Z that are “put in theory by hand” is not consistent (renormalizable).

The appropriate mechanism was known in the beginning of the 1960’s. It goes under the name of spontaneous symmetry breaking. In one variant it involves a spin-zero field whose self-interactions are governed by a “Mexican hat”-shaped potential


It is postulated that the theory ends up in vacuum state that “breaks” the original symmetries of the model (like the valley in the picture above). One problem with this idea was that a theorem by G. Goldstone required a presence of a massless spin-zero particle, which was not experimentally observed. It was Robert Brout, François Englert, Peter Higgs, and somewhat later (but independently), by Gerry Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, Tom Kibble who showed a loophole in a version of Goldstone theorem when it is applied to relativistic gauge theories. In the proposed mechanism massless spin-zero particle does not show up, but gets “eaten” by the massless vector bosons giving them a mass. Precisely as needed for the electroweak bosons W and Z to get their masses!  A massive particle, the Higgs boson, is a consequence of this (BEH or Englert-Brout-Higgs-Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble) mechanism and represents excitation of the Higgs field about its new vacuum state.

It took about 50 years to experimentally confirm the idea by finding the Higgs boson! Tracking the historic timeline, the first paper by Englert and Brout, was sent to Physical Review Letter on 26 June 1964 and published in the issue dated 31 August 1964. Higgs’ paper, received by Physical Review Letters on 31 August 1964 (on the same day Englert and Brout’s paper was published)  and published in the issue dated 19 October 1964. What is interesting is that the original version of the paper by Higgs, submitted to the journal Physics Letters, was rejected (on the grounds that it did not warrant rapid publication). Higgs revised the paper and resubmitted it to Physical Review Letters, where it was published after another revision in which he actually pointed out the possibility of the spin-zero particle — the one that now carries his name. CERN’s announcement of Higgs boson discovery came 4 July 2012.

Is this the last Nobel Prize for particle physics? I think not. There are still many unanswered questions — and the answers would warrant Nobel Prizes. Theory of strong interactions (which ARE responsible for masses of all luminous matter in the Universe) is not yet solved analytically, the nature of dark matter is not known, the picture of how the Universe came to have baryon asymmetry is not cleared. Is there new physics beyond what we already know? And if yes, what is it? These are very interesting questions that need answers.


How to tell a Higgs from another boson?

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

On July 4, when CERN announced “the observation of a new particle” and not the discovery of the Higgs boson, many wondered why be so cautious. It was simply too early to tell what kind of boson we had found. The Higgs boson is the last missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics, a model that has enabled theorists to make extremely precise predictions. But to fully trust this model, it should have all its pieces. Who would want to complete a 5000-piece puzzle with the wrong piece?

Both the CMS and ATLAS experiments have been conducting several checks since July:

1) Are all possible decay modes predicted by the Standard Model observed?

2) Is each observed decay happening at the right rate?

3) What are the fundamental properties of the new boson?

The first checks (based on half the data now available) indicate that the new boson is compatible with being the Higgs boson. But the precision is still too low to tell as shown on the plots below (the signal strength and σ/σSM H are the same quantity).

The Higgs boson can decay in many ways and the plot shows which decays have been observed and at what rates. A signal strength (of 1 means the signal corresponds exactly to what is expected for a Higgs boson.  Zero would mean there is no signal seen for this particular decay channel. The black points represent the measured values and the horizontal bar, the error margin.

At this point, we cannot tell unambiguously if the first two measurements are more compatible with 0 (the decay does not exist) or 1 (yes, it decays at the predicted rate).  Both CMS and ATLAS need to analyze more data to say if the new boson decays into two b quarks (H → bb) and two tau leptons (H → ττ).

The other three decay modes, namely WW, two photons (H → γγ) and ZZ occur at about the rate or slightly more often than expected by the Standard Model.

The decisive test will come by measuring its spin and parity, two “quantum numbers” or properties of fundamental particles. The spin is similar to the angular momentum of a spinning object. But for fundamental particles, only discrete values can be used. For bosons (the particles carrying the various forces), these values can be 0, ±1, ±2 and so on. For fermions, the building blocks of matter like quarks and leptons (electron, muon, tau and neutrinos), it can only be +½ or -½.

Aidan Randle-Conde has compiled all possibilities on his blog. A particle with spin 1 cannot decay into two photons. Since we have seen the new boson decaying into photons, spin 1 is already ruled out in the table below. Moreover, a spin 2 boson could not decay into two taus, which is why it is so important to look for this decay in the latest data.

(from Aidan Randle-Conde’s blog)

The Standard Model predicts that the spin and parity of the Higgs boson will be 0+. To distinguish between 0+ and 0, as well as 2+ and 2, the only way is to carefully measure the angles at which all the decay products fly apart. So if we observe the new boson decaying into photons, we must measure the angle between the photons and the beam axis. If it decays into two Z, each one going into two electrons or two muons, we must carefully measure the angles of these four particles and their combined mass. Here is what Sara Bolognesi and her colleagues predict for Higgs bosons decaying into ZZ, WW or two photons. We must measure specific quantities, namely the mass and angles of the decay products, to distinguish them. If they match the red curve, we will know it is the Higgs boson, but it they look like one of the other curves, it will mean the new boson corresponds to a different theoretical model.

Each experiment now has about 14 fb-1 of data on tape and expects about 25 fb-1 in total by the end of the year. With the 5 fb-1 collected last year, it should be sufficient to unmask the new comer. “All” we need to do is measure these extremely complex quantities.

Pauline Gagnon

To be alerted of new postings, follow me on Twitter: @GagnonPauline or sign-up on this mailing list to receive and e-mail notification.

For more info, see these two CERN news videos  on CERN YouTube (part 1 and part 2) on the Higgs boson spin.


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)