Scientists excited over hints of finding an elusive particle

Dec 12, 2011 By Eryn Brown

Scientists are quivering with anticipation - flying halfway around the world for a close-up view of the action and devouring the latest updates from the blogosphere the way some girls track the doings of Justin Bieber.

Careers hang in the balance. Not to mention a cache of chocolate handed out by the folks who award Nobel Prizes.

All the fuss is over an elusive subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, which is key to understanding mass in the universe. No one has ever presented proof of its existence, but that may be about to change.

"There will be people who will see years of work and things for which they got tenure consigned to the dustbin of history," said MIT theoretical physicist and Frank Wilczek, who believes that the that particle's days of anonymity are numbered.

Hundreds of researchers are sifting through data from CERN's outside Geneva, which sends beams of protons hurtling toward one another at nearly the speed of light. They are hoping that some of the collisions produced telltale tracks of the Higgs boson - and thus provide a key piece of experimental confirmation of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes how subatomic particles interact to form the basic building blocks of the universe.

Teams at CERN, the for Nuclear Research, will make a preliminary announcement about their search this week. Scientists expect to get a general indication of whether the Higgs is what they think it is - or not.

The Higgs boson lies at the heart of a fundamental question: Why is there mass in the universe?

Physicist Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh and other theorists came up with a possible answer 47 years ago, suggesting that particles gain mass by traveling through a particular type of energy field. It came to be known as the Higgs field; the process by which mass is created, the Higgs mechanism. There also had to be a particle associated with the field: the Higgs boson.

Ferreting out the Higgs - which has earned the nickname "God particle" - had been beyond the capabilities of the world's atom smashers. That was a major reason why CERN built the $5 billion Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile loop buried nearly 600 feet underground.

Scientists think they know what the tracks of the Higgs should look like. Once formed, the Higgs decays almost instantaneously into other subatomic particles that physicists can spot at the collider.

The tricky part is figuring out whether the tracks really are evidence of a - or just unrelated noise.

"You have to determine that it is the Higgs bomb and not some shrapnel from the background," said Vivek Sharma, a University of California, San Diego, physicist who heads up one of the two search teams at CERN. To tell the difference, he added, requires painstaking analysis of data from trillions of collisions.

Just getting to the point where that work became possible has been a tall order, and some physicists are more than a little impatient.

"It slowly drives you crazy," said UC Davis John Gunion, who began work on his textbook, "The Higgs Hunter's Guide," in 1983. "You wonder, am I going to be dead before they find this damn thing?"

Leon Lederman, who coined the term "God particle" in a 1993 book of the same name, wrote that he had really wanted to call it the "Goddamn Particle," but his publisher wouldn't let him. He knows a thing or two about finding subatomic particles - he won the Nobel Prize with two others in 1988 for discovering known as the muon neutrino and the bottom quark.

The LHC began its Higgs-hunting experiments in 2010. It has been unexpectedly productive this year, generating 400 trillion proton-proton collisions, almost six times more than expected. The more collisions scientists can study, the more confident they can be that their results are statistically sound.

At a scientific meeting this summer in France, researchers from Sharma's team, known by the acronym CMS, and a rival group, known as ATLAS, presented early results. Both groups had seen hints of the particle, fueling speculation that the search was coming to an end.

But a month later, CERN physicists at a meeting in Mumbai, India, reported that the Higgs signals were getting weaker, setting off another flurry of excitement - this time focused on the possibility that the Higgs did not exist after all.

Now the pendulum has swung back: Last week, rumor had it that the Higgs signals had strengthened again.

The allure of the Higgs has spread beyond scientists. When Sharma gave a speech at UC San Diego about the Higgs search in January, more than 400 people - including elementary school children, engineers from nearby tech companies and retirees - showed up at the auditorium, which seated only about 200. The dean of physical sciences couldn't find a seat.

But no one is more excited than physicists.

"We have hundreds of people literally working day and night," said Guido Tonelli, the Italian physicist who serves as CMS spokesman. "It is one of the most exciting moments in my lifetime."

Gunion, who doesn't work directly on the experiments, made a two-week pilgrimage to CERN this fall to see the goings-on with his own eyes.

"One wants to be where the action is," he said. "We've all been fooling around with all these ideas for many years now. What we really want is an answer."

For those who can't travel to Geneva, the Web is the place to track the Higgs search. CMS and ATLAS upload public results to their home pages and the physics website arXiv. Researchers post talks and PowerPoint slides. Blogs attempt to demystify the data as they trickle out.

Peter Woit, a senior lecturer in mathematics at Columbia University in New York, is the author of the particle physics blog Not Even Wrong. He created a frenzy in April when he published an internal communication from the ATLAS team suggesting that it had detected the Higgs. (ATLAS later released data showing that it had not.)

"I'm writing the blog for other people who are obsessed," he said.

If the particle doesn't materialize in the LHC data, it wouldn't necessarily mean the entire Standard Model is wrong. But it would mean that physicists would have to imagine a different sort of Higgs - or a combination of many different Higgses. They'd also have to figure out how to use the LHC to look for them.

Woit said he would prefer to see the Higgs remain elusive.

"The depressing thing would be if we found the Higgs and it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do," he said. "Then life will be really boring."

Wilczek, on the other hand, would like to see the latest rumors - that scientists are about to report strong but not definitive indications for the existence of the Higgs - prove true.

Back in 2005, he and MIT colleague Janet Conrad, an experimental physicist, made a friendly wager: If the Higgs is found, Conrad has to give Wilczek 10 of the chocolate coins that are served at Nobel Prize award ceremonies in Stockholm; if the Higgs remains hidden, Wilczek has to give Conrad 100 chocolates.

The stakes reflect Wilczek's confidence in the Higgs. "It's just a matter of letting the accelerator run long enough," he said.

Sharma said he was just looking forward to a resolution either way so he could stop commuting between Geneva and San Diego.

"I could care less if Higgs exists or not," he added. "It's a crime scene for me. I'm searching for something. If it exists, we'll find it. If not, we won't."

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User comments : 33

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Nanobanano
1.8 / 5 (10) Dec 12, 2011
My prediction:

If the Higgs exists, they'll eventually discover it will be made up of Widgets, Gizmos, and Gadgets, and they won't be able to explain where the Gadgets come from.

Then somebody will try to make an accelerator that wraps all the way around the equator to look for the damned things...
Otto_Krog
1 / 5 (5) Dec 12, 2011
I would like to comment on the probability of a scientific discovery tuesday.

Scientists measure their experiments by a term called sigma.

There is no scientific discovery about a sigma 2.5 or 3.50 as probably will be the case on tuesday. Maybe even lower.

If Newton were sitting under his appletree and made 100 observations, and in one instance the apple didn't hit him in the head, it is a sigma 2.5. A sigma 5.o is EVERY time that the apple falls down, and that includes doing it a million times and more.

THAT is a scientific discovery.

At sigma 3 the apple fals wrong one out of every 370 times you do the experiment. That is not a scientific discovery either.

My prediction is that the Higgs particle never will reach close to a sigma 5.

Behind the prediction there is a theory, if you are interested.

Google crestroyer theory and find it or visit directly at

stealthc
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 12, 2011
my prediction is, there are no higgs particles, gravity is only a consequence of the material that makes up the fabric of space. How is this an article it imparted no useful current information and at best was a rewording of last weeks and last month's news regurgitated in a new way. Nothing to see here if you read the last LHC higgs boson article you would have gotten about 2 paragraphs in before speeding through the rest realizing there is nothing new at all other than stupid social events that are pointless to read about in a science news site. If I wanted to read about the latest social convention I would pick up a copy of gentleman's quarterly.
axemaster
2.3 / 5 (4) Dec 12, 2011
Woit said he would prefer to see the Higgs remain elusive.
"The depressing thing would be if we found the Higgs and it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do," he said. "Then life will be really boring."

I couldn't agree more. It'll really suck if they basically finish physics right as I am graduating from college... there's nothing as depressing as a world without any grand mysteries.
tigger
4.8 / 5 (8) Dec 12, 2011
It's turtles all the way down baby! :-)
CHollman82
1 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2011
It's turtles all the way down baby! :-)


rofl!
Callippo
1.1 / 5 (7) Dec 12, 2011
IMO Higgs boson doesn't exist in the same way, like distinguished particle responsible for CMBR noise doesn't exist. What does exist is the mixture of CMBR photons with certain power distribution and what we are observing during LHC collisions is such a power distribution too. I'd even expect, the power distribution of quantum fluctuations at quantum scale would mirror the power distribution at cosmological scale in accordance to the dense aether model, AWT.

In this model the observable Universe appears like area of water surface observed with its surface ripples. At the small distance the visibility scope is limited, because surface ripples are dispersing with Brownian noise into underwater. At the large scale the same dispersion occurs, so we can expect the geometric similarity here. The AWT predicts, this distribution should follow the dodecahedron symmetry, corresponding the most compact, still regular spherical particle packing.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Dec 12, 2011
I couldn't agree more. It'll really suck if they basically finish physics right as I am graduating from college... there's nothing as depressing as a world without any grand mysteries.

Oh I think there are one or two mysteries remaining...

the nature of time
the big bang
why there are more than one type of force
...
CHollman82
1 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2011
The Higgs Boson is like one giant cock tease...
Blakut
5 / 5 (6) Dec 12, 2011
But really Physorg, a Justin Bieber reference in the leading paragraph??
javjav
5 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2011
I don't thing it would be depressing. Depressing is when you don't discover anything great in 80 years as it has happened. No big discoveries since Einstein and QM. Since then, we only discovered unsolved mysteries like dark matter, dark energy, fsl neutrinos, unbalanced antimatter, entanglement, Higgs field... it's time to solve one of them at least! If we really understand where is the mass coming from then it could open the door to great discoveries.
Callippo
1 / 5 (7) Dec 12, 2011
there's nothing as depressing as a world without any grand mysteries
It shouldn't prohibit us to consider the most simple and straightforward explanations first. Scientists should follow the Occam's razor, just after then their feeling and fear of occasional lost of job. The dense aether model isn't definitely the ultimate answer to all questions, but it apparently limits, what we can effectively observe in the next century in the area of high energy physics or cosmology. Because there is strong psychological pressure to consider every subtle bump as an evidence of existing mainstream theories, it could take a long time and lotta money before physicists realize their mistake.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2011
Woit said he would prefer to see the Higgs remain elusive.
"The depressing thing would be if we found the Higgs and it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do," he said. "Then life will be really boring."

I couldn't agree more. It'll really suck if they basically finish physics right as I am graduating from college... there's nothing as depressing as a world without any grand mysteries.
There are still all the ways of applying it which I think would be the really exciting part? Enabling us to live forever and providing endless room in which to do so? Come on, what good is knowing if it doesnt increase your security or comfort level?
maxcypher
not rated yet Dec 12, 2011
Even if the Higgs is found, there is so much that science doesn't understand -- like dark energy/matter -- that I don't see how it can ever be boring.
Callippo
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 12, 2011
There will be large skepticism around these results anyway, because Tevatron didn't detected any dilepton or diphoton bump around 125 GeV http://www.scienc...ly27.gif It means, these results must be repeated with using of another independent collider. The Tevatron did run at 3,5x lower energy than the LHC, but the 125 GeV is comfortably within its reach. And Tevatron's integral luminosity (corresponding the total amount of collision data collected) was much higher, than at the case of LHC. The three sigma reliability achieved is relatively low, the results of such statistical significance waned many times in history. The positive indicia is, the same bump can be observed at both di-lepton, both di-photon channel (although just at only one of CMS and ATLAS detectors).
Osiris1
not rated yet Dec 12, 2011
How about if quarks are found to have subunits as well?
Callippo
1 / 5 (5) Dec 12, 2011
How about if quarks are found to have subunits as well?
Why not, but it's similar to observation of lakes at the islands covered with fog - the more distant these islands will be, the less apparent their constituents will be too. It limits the number of hierarchy levels observable.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (4) Dec 12, 2011
Leon Lederman, who coined the term "God particle" in a 1993 book of the same name, wrote that he had really wanted to call it the "Goddamn Particle,"


I gotta remember that whenever somebody gets excited by them calling it the "God particle".
El_Nose
5 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2011
if the title was "News for Trolls that contains nothing of sustenance" - i think the comments would still look similar
vega12
not rated yet Dec 12, 2011
I couldn't agree more. It'll really suck if they basically finish physics right as I am graduating from college... there's nothing as depressing as a world without any grand mysteries.

Oh I think there are one or two mysteries remaining...

the nature of time
the big bang
why there are more than one type of force
...
Finding Higgs wouldn't really clear up the big problems in physics anyways. Finding a consistent quantum theory of gravity is the real holy grail of physics, and that won't change, Higgs or not. So don't be too depressed.
Callippo
1 / 5 (5) Dec 12, 2011
Finding a consistent quantum theory of gravity is the real holy grail of physics, and that won't change, Higgs or not.
At the moment, when one theory already supplies different predictions than another one for the same phenomena, you cannot expect very much from their reconciliation. Every theory becomes fuzzy with adding of sufficient number of dimensions into it. So if you reformulate both quantum mechanics, both general relativity in sufficient number of dimensions, then their predictions will become consistently fuzzy. Holly grail is somewhat dirty and trivial from this perspective. It can still serve as a salary generator, until sufficient number of laymans will realize, they're paying the alchemists for finding of Philosopher stone.
anadish
1 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2011
Faster than light Neutrinoes and Higgs both cannot coexist -- either one has to be wrong. It's DCE research and superluminal speed which has the potential of breaking current scientific barriers, rather than finding a nebulous statistical dual peak for a Higgs, which well could be due to many other anomalies, one that LHC could not decipher is that of the UFOs.
vega12
5 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2011
At the moment, when one theory already supplies different predictions than another one for the same phenomena, you cannot expect very much from their reconciliation. Every theory becomes fuzzy with adding of sufficient number of dimensions into it.

I'm sorry, but I don't think you know what you're talking about. Quantum field theory is well accepted to be an effective field theory, so we expect it to break down at high energies when GR becomes important. Things don't suddenly get "fuzzy" in whatever fuzzy qualitative sense you mean at the limits of the theory, they just breakdown.
SR and quantum had a similar union. SR was an improved classical mechanics, and quantum mechanics was, well quantum, but their union didn't fuzzy-up everything, but rather gave birth to QFT.
Also, look up the definition of "dimension".
ant_oacute_nio354
1 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2011
The mass is the electric dipole moment:

m = e.k/x (1-pi^3.alpha^2/2)
m-mass;e-electron charge;k-Boltzmann constant x-Compton wavelength;
pi=3.1415927;alpha--fine structure constant

Higgs doesn´t exist.
ant_oacute_nio354
1 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2011
e.k.c = h (1 pi^3.alpha^2/2)

e-electron charge;k-Boltzmann constant;
c-light speed;h--Plancks constant.
pi=3.1415927;alpha-fine structure constant
rawa1
1 / 5 (3) Dec 13, 2011
but I don't think you know what you're talking about
For example about 100 orders of magnitude difference in prediction of vacuum energy density or cosmological constant values by quantum mechanics and relativity theory. If two different equations predict different values for the same thing, then it's evident, it's impossible to reconcile them at the strictly formal level. What is different in formal rigor, is different for ever. If it wouldn't we could always convert nonequivalences to equivalences and vice-versa just by proper substitution. Which we fortunately cannot - it would broke the logics of the whole formal math.
rawa1
1 / 5 (3) Dec 13, 2011
Things don't suddenly get "fuzzy" in whatever fuzzy qualitative sense you mean at the limits of the theory, they just breakdown
The anthropic landscape of 10E 500 possible solutions of string theory is such a fuzzy example.
El_Nose
1 / 5 (1) Dec 13, 2011
"The depressing thing would be if we found the Higgs and it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do," he said. "Then life will be really boring."


what he is refering to is two things really
1) and foremost - if the Higgs is found then all the subatomic particles have been accounted for by the Standard model. excluding WIMP's that may or maynot be darkmatter - but by definition they have mass

2) Scientists were expecting even at the energy levels being used now at the LHC that some tails would occur at the high energy levels that would indicate a diviation from current models to something new at higher energy models -- unfortunately the results have held and no unpredicted results have surfaced.

--- this means that this could be the end of particle physics -- they would have literally figured out everything and this field will transition to pure engineering to accomplish results. and no new higher energy physics

El_Nose
not rated yet Dec 13, 2011
but the LHC is not at full power just yet so we will see
CHollman82
1 / 5 (1) Dec 13, 2011
this means that this could be the end of particle physics -- they would have literally figured out everything


Nope...
qsa
3 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2011
even if higgs is found, how does that answer these points
1. all couplings values and their relations and origin. That includes computing the behavior at all energies (and distances-up to edge of the universe if there is one(CC)). and if there is a physical cut-off or not.
2. the theory must predict particles with their masses explained.Inculding light and its clear interaction picture with matter.
3. What is charge exactly and how does the value come about.
4. the origin of Spin and entanglment.
5. how do particles behave in flight, like the double slit experiment.
6. The real source of the effect of relativity. That is of course includes what is Space and time. and what is vacuum made of.
7. the relation between all of the above.
8. the origin and the fate of the universe or(universes)
But Most of all what is existance made of, if not a mathematical imperative.

KBK
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 13, 2011
I don't thing it would be depressing. Depressing is when you don't discover anything great in 80 years as it has happened. No big discoveries since Einstein and QM. Since then, we only discovered unsolved mysteries like dark matter, dark energy, fsl neutrinos, unbalanced antimatter, entanglement, Higgs field... it's time to solve one of them at least! If we really understand where is the mass coming from then it could open the door to great discoveries.


The LHC collider is actually the "large hardon collider". the thing is an embarrassment to mankind. Thousands of things have been discovered, and hundreds of those discovered things make the LHC totally obsolete.

The problem is the linear minds of the LHC fanatics who can't look outside their boxes, and an unaware public that puts their trust where it does not belong.

It really is that simple.

They couldn't find their head with both hands on the dog's ass.
CHollman82
3 / 5 (4) Dec 14, 2011
The LHC collider is actually the "large hardon collider". the thing is an embarrassment to mankind. Thousands of things have been discovered, and hundreds of those discovered things make the LHC totally obsolete.

The problem is the linear minds of the LHC fanatics who can't look outside their boxes, and an unaware public that puts their trust where it does not belong.

It really is that simple.

They couldn't find their head with both hands on the dog's ass.


Nominated for the dumbest thing I've read all week.