The Game Is Afoot: Large Hadron Collider At CERN May Find Higgs Boson Next Week

And BBC provides an article on the subject containing not one single irresponsible reference to “The God Particle”!

Wikipedia says of the elusive yet essential Higgs boson, the only particle predicted by the Standard Model (SM) of today’s physics that has not been observed yet in any experiment,

The Higgs boson is the only elementary particle predicted by the Standard Model that has not been observed in particle physics experiments. It is a necessary requirement of the so-called Higgs mechanism, the part of the SM which explains how most of the known elementary particles obtain their mass.

There’s much more in the wiki, if you’re into particle interactions and their mechanisms, but the above graf is what you really need to know. The Higgs boson, if it exists, underlies the notion of mass. Without it, a lot of particle physics and cosmology as currently known simply don’t work mathematically. So expectations are high.

Why has it not been found to date? Funny you should ask…

Some theories suggest that any mechanism capable of generating the masses of the elementary particles must be visible at energies below 1.4 TeV;  therefore, the LHC is expected to be able to provide experimental evidence of the existence or non-existence of the Higgs boson.

The LHC is the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). It is currently the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, one of only two even marginally capable of possibly producing Higgs particles (the other is the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago, which may or may not be powerful enough to generate the Higgs).

An exasperating aside: If the U.S. had sprung for the money to build the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), we Americans might already have collected all the prizes for this most significant of physics results in the world today. But we didn’t build it. As the great Steven Weinberg, himself a Nobel prizewinner for his early work on the weak force and still an active theorist in particle physics and cosmology (he literally “wrote the book” on cosmology, the standard text used by a lot of universities) remarked, before the SSC’s location was selected, the project had the support of 100 U.S. senators; after a location was selected (for good and sufficient technological reasons), the project was supported by 2 senators. I am certain that is true, and it speaks volumes about America’s commitment to basic scientific research: in other words, most of it in the coming century will probably be done elsewhere.

So… what happens if the Higgs boson is found? A better question is what happens if it is NOT found: a lot of modern physics of the stuff of the universe at its deepest, most granular level is suddenly on a really shaky foundation, and theoretical constructs developed over the past three or four decades will need a lot of revision.

My best guess is that they will find it, and the biggest unknown that will be answered by the experiments is what its properties are. Indeed, it may already have been found, if by “found” one means “data providing conclusive evidence recorded”: they’re still running tests and sifting through the resulting data for likely candidates (somewhere I saw that maybe 10 events so far are indicative of Higgs interaction). Running a particle accelerator is not like ordering a frappuccino with a few custom additions: you have to run literally trillions of experiments, each producing an assortment of more-or-less random results within the span of what is possible for a given kind of collision, and then go looking (with a computer, of course) for the oddities you are interested in.

Keep your eyes on the news, and let me know what you see… if this sort of thing piques your curiosity as it does mine.

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