With big science news like this, it's always best to go to the source to avoid sensationalism. Of note, is the following statement which isn't getting repeated much in the mainstream news sources:
"It remains an open question, however, whether this is the Higgs boson of the Standard Model of particle physics, or possibly the lightest of several bosons predicted in some theories that go beyond the Standard Model. Finding the answer to this question will take time."
I find this to be a pretty important distinguishing factor. Not only will it take a while before they really do know, but it may not, in fact, be the Higgs so many have been searching for to fit into the Standard Model.
Many news sources are already claiming that the "god particle" has been found.
The first question, "is the Higgs mechanism how elementary particles get their mass?" is now essentially answered. Whether or not the Higgs boson is a single particle or part of a hierarchy of related bosons is almost irrelevant to the answer of this question.
The second question is "is there new physics at the TeV scale?" If there is, then there are additional bosons related to the Higgs in some models like supersymmetry. However, it is not required that there be additional bosons or that that they be easily measured. Other new particles might be more accessible. On the other hand, there might not be any new physics at LHC energies at all. This question is what will take time to answer.
You're misunderstanding the quoted passage. In either case it would be the Higgs that they were searching for.
The uncertainty is about the structure that exists beyond the standard model. Some sort of Higgs is still necessary in almost any extension to this model, which is why everyone was so damn certain it would be found.
I am not a physicist, only someone who enjoys physics, so
I may be. I would love to be enlightened if I did misunderstand.
My understanding from the statement is that they know there is the effects of a Higgs has been observed. But that this isn't necessarily the Higgs which fits into the Standard Model. I understand there are other models which may be considered but I thought that there were specific conditions which would satisfy the Standard Model.
>this isn't necessarily the Higgs which fits into the Standard Model
We know that the standard model is "wrong" -- it breaks down at high enough energies. But it's valid at lower energies; it works for the stuff we can actually observe. And it requires a Higgs field to make sense.
If they discover a particle that fills this role, that's discovering "the" Higgs. It doesn't matter if it turns out that the Higgs sector is more complicated; the fundamental prediction of the standard model has been vindicated. Even though everyone kind of expected this, its still a big deal!
So if a pop science article says that the Higgs has been discovered, they're not really being sensationalist in their wording. Working physicists would say the same thing.
Thanks! From your explanation, I guess I may have misunderstood the significance of observing a Higgs versus the Higgs when it comes to semantics. Maybe it's a case of me just being too specific and I should cool my jets. However, the swath of results stating "god particle found" across the board, when searching for the source, felt a bit much.
Now, it's quite likely interesting stuff happens before that point! (Such as the extra Higgs suggested by supersymmetry.) And there are also other, complicated reasons to suspect that the Standard Model breaks down, to suspect that it is really what we call an "effective field theory".
That's all ignoring issues like dark matter or the neutrino mass, which are not predicted by the standard model. But it's kind of interesting that the model (in a certain sense) naturally limits its own predictions.
Science is pretty boring to most people, who aren't interested in science per se but only want news bites for use in casual conversation. Media distorts scientific claims in order to appeal to a wider audience and make more money.
God Particle Found! News at eleventy eleven!eleventy!
I find your statement regarding people wanting nothing more than news bites for casual conversation to be intriguing. I wonder how much consumption of information is for nothing more than to be able to converse about it.
When I was a bartender, I would often consume tidbits of popular sporting events or news just so I could hold conversations with my patrons. I had absolutely 0 interest in who crashed at Daytona that day.
I predict roughly everyone who already believes in god and follows this kind of news (only half-jokingly).
In my experience most people don't form their opinions based on the totality of current knowledge and keep adjusting them in some Bayesian fashion as more info becomes known. Rather they make up their minds based on something (could be their knowledge of currently accepted facts, could be what they were taught growing up, could be just what they think makes sense, etc..) and then simply scan for confirmatory data, or simply don't pay any attention because they already have it 'figured out'.
Thus if you already believe in god and heard that scientists had discovered the 'god particle' you would likely say 'see, I knew it!', if you didn't believe in god and saw the same thing you would say 'I am skeptical, let me read this article', and you would walk away saying 'that is just a name, it has nothing to do with god, who still doesn't exist'. So really I guess both sides win, and we all lose, or maybe I am just too cynical.
Well, to be fair, does the sourced NYT article not say exactly what the quote indicates--specifically to the point of referencing the quote itself? Even the article's title says it is a, not the, Higgs boson that is found. Moreover, the article also says "it remains an "open question," CERN said in a statement, whether this is the Higgs boson that was expected in the original formulation, or possibly the lightest of several predicted in some theories that go beyond that model."
I wasn't speaking directly to the NYT article. I was speaking to the multitude of sites that came up when I was searching for the source. Many of the headlines were along the lines of "god particle found."
The physics involved is fascinating, although a true appreciation of what a Higgs Boson is would take years (i.e. most of a PhD).
The organisation of such a vast data-processing task has surely brought about many discoveries in "big-data" and parallel computing that are not directly related to the discoveries in physics. Much like the research into the magnets that power the accelerator has led to new MRI machines. To people who don't see the point in "science for science's sake", this is a massive spin-off of CERN that will hopefully greatly benefit the world.
Gopher had links. At its core, gopher was links. It was a hierarchical menu system of proto-URLs (host port and path).
The primary benefits of www over gopher at the time were that the web supported text input (you had to use wais just to search gopher and you couldn't build say, a forum) and html which allowed embedded images and formatting.
The key innovation of the web was that it used a human editable markup language that allowed links to other content to be intermingled with content. This turned out to be more revolutionary than anyone would have thought.
Part of me is rather skeptical that the giant mound of assumptions about hardware, software, and physics backing this discovery is correct. However, I have a lot more faith in them then I do in most human endeavors and I fundamentally don't understand what's going on. Which I find to be an odd feeling.
Your skepticism is exactly what science is all about!
I find it to be a wonderful feeling.
I've loved watching the tête à tête between the 24-hour news and this extremely important science community. More than once, extraordinary claims have been made and completely overblown by the media. Meanwhile, these talented scientists have remained levelheaded, critical, and extremely careful in their announcements. Watching the FTL discussions, for example, was just so much fun. It actually gave me more faith in humanity to see so many people fact checking each other and challenging each other to prove something in civilized ways.
The physicist involved are also skeptical of their own experiments. That's why they independently build two experiments, ATLAS and CMS, that measure the decay product of the collisions (in addition, they are also a number of other more specialized detectors).
The design of these detectors are rather different, and they are build by different team, yet are are giving consistent results.
So of course they are common assumptions, but they did do their homework to try to mitigate this.
I don't think that renormalization has much to do with this! :P
It's enough to say that the standard model has to have some input from the real world -- mostly the masses of the particles and their mixing angles. Renormalization just makes it harder to talk about what a particle's mass "really" is; it doesn't really increase the number of parameters in the theory.
Renormalisation, however, does suggest that coupling constants change with the energy level involved, which then leads to the nice idea that, given an appropriate theory, one could make all these runnings match at a certain energy and then get a grand unified theory (of the strong and electroweak force) which breaks down at lower energies and leads to our three different coupling constants of the gauge groups.
 Effectively the basic rate of things happening per particle/energy/volume of spacetime etc., originally assumed to be constant.
 Effectively things happening faster for certain types of interactions (electromagnetic vs. weak vs. strong).
Are there any predictions for possible daily-life-affecting spin-offs from the new physics itself, rather than just from the engineering advances made in the search? Or do the energies involved preclude any direct practical uses?
The energies themselves aren’t that high, the problem is that the energy densities are high - the Planck mass, for example, which is usually taken as the highest possible energy in particle physics beyond which we have to take gravity into account, is equivalent to a mere 21 μg.
However, ‘practical’ uses of these physics are not immediately obvious in the way special relativity is necessary to get decent GPS. Nevertheless, both the engineering advances _and_ the mathematical tools invented during such research prove very useful time and time again - methodology from String Theory, for example, is used in trying to find dynamical descriptions of superconductors, which, if found, will affect daily life strongly (hopefully).
The key point to keep in mind here is that predictions about the future are rather hard and we have no idea what weird things people come up with in twenty or thirty years time, let alone a hundred years. Or could you have predicted the global cat picture viewing machine mentioned next door in 1913?
 And to understand why more than 3 to 4 GHz are rather impractical if you want to keep the CPU and RAM physically separated, btw.
I figured as much, I was just wondering if anyone knew of any potential predictions. As a counter-point to your examples, Tesla had lots of visions for the possible uses of his research and inventions that were years ahead of his time, many of which have come to be and some of which are still ahead of our time. So it's possible to predict possible uses for cutting-edge science, even if it's rare.
Understanding the origins of mass in the universe is directly tied to how gravity works. All of which feeds into any hope we might have of one-day figuring out how to step-around it's particular limitations, or find some suitable negative-space time curvature to build Alcubierre drives with.
Quite so. We can't predict the future, nor can we fully predict all of the potential applications of any given theory, but we do know that not understanding the fundamentals of how things work in our Universe is certain to limit our options. Many of the most important bits of scientific knowledge in industry today were at one time just as esoteric subjects of research as the study of the Higgs field is today.
It's actually very interesting to see how seriously confirmation bias taken by CERN/the collaborations. Not only do they carefully look at the properties of what they find to see if they found something else, but they also take into account other statistical details like the look-elsewhere effect .
Sort of related question, which may sound a bit rubbish since I don't really know the physics or their scientific method at that scale, but were they doing enough experiments that they'd have eventually said it couldn't exist if they never found it for some amount of time? Or was it always something that could only be proven, not disproven?
The Higgs was not guaranteed to be there, and its absence would have been obvious and discoverable. If they'd seen no signal by now everyone would likely be comfortable saying that there was no standard model Higgs.
However, SOMETHING needs to break electroweak symmetry---this is known because the W and Z gauge bosons are massive, and it isn't possible to formulate a consistent gauge theory with massive bosons without symmetry breaking. Whether it was the Higgs mechanism, or some technicolor (strongly-coupled, QCD-like) theory, or something else entirely was not well constrained before the machine turned on. With that in mind, it's clear that it might be that what they found is not just a standard model Higgs, but one of a number of higher-energy excitations. If that's true then the Standard Model is not, strictly speaking, correct, though it can be thought of as an effective field theory ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effective_field_theory ).
This graph shows how many pairs of photons were crated, classified by the energy.
There are a lot of ways to create a pair of photons, so there is a lot of background noise even if the Higgs Boson doesn't exist. This is roughly the dotted line (it's very difficult to see, because it's almost covered with the red line).
The black points are the actual measurements. They almost agree with the dotted line, except in the range of 125-130GeV where there is a bump. In that energy range there are more pairs of photons created than the expected quantity. The energy of the photons is essentially equal to the mass of the HB, but there are some dispersion because of the measurements errors and some quantum effects.
The red line is a simulation of how many pairs of photons would appear if the mass of the HB were 126.5GeV. They adjusted that parameter to get the best fit. This red line has a bump near 126.5GeV that is similar to the bump that the measurements have (black dots). The dotted line is very similar, so the red line cover it everywhere except in the bump range.
There is a lot of noise, so one possibility is that the bump is only a lucky streak, so they wait until they get a 5 sigma deviation, i.e. there is only 1/2000000 chance of getting a deviation as big as that form random fluctuations and noise. (The graph is old and shows only a 4.5 sigma deviation.)
The complete analysis is more complicated, but the general idea is that if there were no HB, they would get a different signal.
> were they doing enough experiments that they'd have eventually said it couldn't exist if they never found it for some amount of time?
No, that's called "proving a negative" -- in most cases it's an impossible evidentiary burden. For example, no one will ever be able to say that Bigfoot doesn't exist for lack of evidence. This is why the null hypothesis is the default scientific precept -- that something without evidence is assumed not to exist (but by no means proven not to exist).
While it not possible to disprove the existence, of, say, unicorns. It is possible to say "I've searched the length and breadth of Central Park, looking for unicorns with 99.9% detection probability for each square meter of the park. I found no unicorns."
Whether you find this sufficient to reasonably exclude any unicorn hypotheses is up to you and will depend upon whatever unicorn hypothesis you wish to test. If the hypothesis is that the world should be uniformly populated with unicorns once every hundred meters, then the above observation should place strong constraints on the viability of the hypothesis, as about 340 unicorns should have been observed.
In the case of the Higgs, had the signal not popped up, they would have been able to exclude any Higgs-like particle over a huge range, which includes the now-claimed value. At the present mass, with the data up till now, they would have excluded a Standard Higgs to better than 5-sigma (less than a one in a million chance that they missed it).
Want to see the one of the peaks as it forms? (you have to trust that the scientists are doing the analysis right before they make this plot)
All scientists should take philosophy of science, IMHO, to avoid the misunderstanding of te scientific method that comes from dogmatic belief in it. I would guess most scientists don't know the difference between an inductive and deductive proof, both of which are crucial for scientific progress.
There was a fascinating series of articles on New York times on the search for the Higgs Boson.
There was also an attempt to explain what is the Higgs Boson , by means of some drawings and analogies in the second part of the series. Perhaps someone knowledgeable could comment how accurate the explanation is.
A new pope can start making a difference in the lives of a lot of people as soon as tomorrow. Proving the existence of a Higgs boson won't matter to nearly everyone for many years, if it ever matters. In the past new physics has eventually lead to new engineering which lead to new products that change peoples lives. In this case I'm not sure that will happen, given the energy needed to reach the new physics. At most the engineering needed to reach those energy levels might spin off new products, but they're not likely to be drastically new, just an extension of existing products.
How do you give the discovery of the Higgs a Nobel prize? Particularly in experimental particle physics, the ability to give a nobel prize (even after discounting grad students :) seems impossible today. The number of people who have to be part of any "discovery" is huge. It seems like the prize would then become the prize for who had the most political (office and governmental) sway on the team.
> It [the LHC] has been creating high-energy collisions to smash protons and then study the collisions and determine how subatomic particles acquire mass — without which the particles would fail to stick together.
Too bad -- a science writer wouldn't have made this elementary error.
At what point do we stop giving names to particles? Are we there yet?
In other fields I see a pattern of trying to categorize things into relatively short lists that a human can comprehend. E.g. phonemes for speech. It turns out that phonemes don't work, but by using a much finer-grained classification you get a system that does work.
So for particles, charm quark or top quark are not particularly descriptive. The names are really no better than "excitation 112" and "excitation 236b". Perhaps a bit more memorable, but not more descriptive of the physics.
As it happens, about a fortnight ago I was talking to a recently retired but still active professor at CERN (he is the father of a friend of mine). I asked him where things stood with the Higgs Boson, and his reply was that they are definitely seeing a pretty strong signal in the data they've gathered, but they're not sure what it is yet exactly. In particular, it could match any one of a number of different competing theories (Disclaimer: I am not a particle physicist so I might have misremembered the precise terminology he used).
From the article:
'The particle was named for Peter Higgs, one of the physicists who proposed its existence, but it later became popularly known as the "God particle."'
Calling it the "God particle" is an insult to science, and "Higgs Boson" is definitely the more popular term. Here's the adword keyword analysis for both: http://imgur.com/dsNVbum
"Higgs Boson" as a search term is 4.078 times more popular globally and 3.322 times in the US.
The question in my mind is: is there anything beyond the Higgs? Particle theorists hoped the LHC would find whole new families of particles supporting any number of exotic theories. If the LHC finds the Higgs and nothing else, there will be a huge exodus from the field: given the cost of the experiment, a bigger one will be a hard sell in this climate.
Could be a good time to pick up some physics PhDs for your data science team.
I wonder. If this adds one more trust factor to the standard model, does that mean it'll hold forever? Maybe? There must be some level on which we can baseline our understanding of the universe. Maybe this is it? maybe ?
It seems clear that any more complete theory describing particle physics must inevitably reduce to something equivalent to the standard model in the appropriate limits. So in that sense, the standard model will hold forever.
It's exactly the same as saying that Newton's law of gravity will hold forever. It applies very accurately under most circumstances; situations that require us to deal with the complexities of general relativity are quite rare. (GR only begins to differ from Newton's gravity when you have extremely strong gravity or when you need extremely high precision.)
But if you want to really understand the inner workings of the universe, Newtonian gravity won't cut it: you need GR. And it's pretty well established that the standard model can't be the whole story, either: its mathematics eventually break down when the energies get high enough. So there's got to be something else up there... we just aren't sure what it is.
> If this adds one more trust factor to the standard model, does that mean it'll hold forever?
Do you mean the Standard Model? Well, to answer, look at the history of scientific theories -- every scientific theory ever put forth has eventually been proven either flat wrong or been shown to be an approximation, without exception.
The Standard Model more or less includes General Relativity, and General Relativity conflicts with quantum theories, so there's already a basis for further work. That work is being addressed by (among other things) string / superstring / M theories, unfortunately without any experimental testable predictions yet.
Physicists just saying "we found it!" and re-re-re-checking existing data for hmmm... last year i suppose. And processing LHC (which already stopped) data will take a lot more time. They found "evidence" (five standard deviations) - but it's slightly more than detection threshold - and because of that they still unsure.
"The particle's existence helps confirm the theory that objects gain their size and shape when particles interact in an energy field with a key particle, the Higgs boson. The more they attract, so the theory goes, the bigger their mass will be."
So does this mean that an ether really does permeate space?
A very important thing is that the Higgs Boson is totally unrelated to the shape and size of the object. It's related only to the mass. (I can even tolerate "weight" with scare quotes in a divulgation article.)
Not very similar. The problem with ether is that it fixed a preferred frame. So some objects were truly still and some objects were truly moving.
The Higgs field also permeates all objects, but the mathematical structure is different and it has no preferred frame, so there is no truly still object, all the movements are relative.
This is not a strange thing. The photons are the bosons of the electromagnetic field, that also permeates all objects and it has no preferred frame, so there is no truly still object, all the movements are relative.
And the gluons are the bosons of the strong force field with exactly the same properties.
Even the electrons have and associated field that that also permeates all objects and it has no preferred frame, so there is no truly still object, all the movements are relative. But electrons are fermions, no bosons, so some properties are different, but they have an associated field.
The same happens with the up and down quarks (and neutrinos). Each one has a associated field, with the same properties. (And the other particles too, but this is becoming too repetitive.)
The strange thing is not that the Higgs Bosons have an associated field. The strange thing is that the vacuum expectation value of the Higgs Fields is not zero.
In all the other cases (photons, electrons, ...) the vacuum expectation value is zero, so if you have an empty box, there are almost no particles there (some virtual particles appear, but in some sense they are only a few, (in another sense they are a lot, but it's better to think that they are only a few).) The important thing is that if any particle pass through the box, it will almost not bounce against any other particle (photons, electrons, ...) because it is empty.
But for the Higgs fields the vacuum expectation value is not zero! So even inside the empty box the value of the Higgs field is not zero, there is something like a background value. If any particle passes through the box, it will bounce many many many times against the background even if the box is empty. An easy way to interpret all this bouncing is to say that the particle has apparent mass.
But the Higgs field is not even, it has bumps, and those bumps are the Higgs Bosons. The empty box has only very few Higgs Bosons (or a lot in another technical sense). The normal particles can bounce against the background (vacuum expectation value) and we call it "mass" and they can also bounce against the bumps (bosons) and we call it "interactions".
No, this one is actual science, this time it's not from some dubious guy with a philosophical agenda.
"Finding" the Higgs is a prolonged statistical process involving tons of data that need to be crunched and the experiment itself also needs to run for a long time in order to yield this data. Physicists have been talking about a strong signal indicating the existence of the Higgs for quite a while now, so its existence has not really in question for some time. The problem with continuous and statistical analyses then becomes: when do you actually announce you found the damn thing? That's why it has been announced several times (and probably will be a few times more).
But it's real.
It would have been surprising, but way more exciting, if the Higgs didn't exist.