GENEVA, July 5: “As a layman, I would say, I think we have it. Yes, we have a discovery,” said Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Physics) on July 4 at a conference organized to make the announcement of the discovery of the elusive Higgs Boson particle.
It was the rock star event of the year in science, especially fundamental physics, a research that has taken more than 20 years, thousands of people, and millions in investment.
The event was interactively broadcast to the year´s major particle physics conference, ICHEP 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. People were camping outside CERN´s auditorium the previous night and even hours before the announcement was to be made, the hallowed halls of CERN were packed. When Peter Higgs walked into the auditorium with other giants of theoretical physics, there was a standing ovation.
So what is it that CERN claims that they have?
“We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of five sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The next few months will be very important in analyzing data and understanding the particle,” said Fabiola Gianotti, spokesperson of the ATLAS experiment.
“The results are preliminary but the five sigma signal at around 125 GeV we´re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it´s the heaviest boson ever found,” said Joe Incandela, spokesperson of the CMS experiment, “We´ve reached into the fabric of the universe at a level we´ve never done before. We are on the edge of new explorations. It might be the Standard Model Higgs Boson or might lead to a whole new field of discovery.”
The data CERN claims is consistent with that of a Higgs Boson, the elementary particle which, according to the Standard Model of Physics, gives mass to other elementary particles through the Higgs mechanism. This means that we are closer to understanding the nature of the universe and the origin of mass.
The pioneers of the theory of the existence of the Higgs Boson and the Higgs mechanism were present at the event. And despite pleas from journalists, Peter Higgs´ only statement was: “I am very thankful that it happened in my lifetime.”
Peter Higgs predicted the existence of the Higgs Boson in the 1960s, which is believed to lead to the completion of the Standard Model of physics, and without which particles would have no mass.
“The standard model is not complete,” said Gianotti, “It cannot explain many fundamental particles but with this particle, the road is wide open. That is the exciting thing about research, you never know how long it will take or even if what you find is what you are looking for.”
The discovery comes after almost three years of data generation and analysis. In light of the discovery of the new particle, CERN has decided to extend the run of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) accelerators for another two-and-half to three months, much later than scheduled, to generate more data. The LHC will then shut down for approximately two years for maintenance.
“Things moved along much faster than we expected. We have the Higgs Boson. As a scientist, I would have to ask ´What do we have?´ We have to find out what kind of Higgs Boson it is, what its properties are, and which direction to head in the future,” said Heuer. The preliminary results involved 500 trillion proton-proton collisions and physicists took careful measures to make sure that they had one in one million chances of being wrong before making the announcement.
“There was an overwhelming reaction in the community and it feels great for the collaborations. It is so complicated because there are so many pieces involved and we have a hundred different pieces and we cannot afford to have mistakes,” said Incandela.
The two major experimental groups at CERN, ATLAS and CMS are studying the basic forces that have shaped our universe since the beginning of time, the origin of mass, extra dimensions of space, the unification of fundamental forces, and evidence of dark matter candidates in the universe.
The physicists say that the particle found is consistent with that of the Higgs Boson but of what kind is still new territory to be explored.