We’re THIS close to finding the elusive “God particle”
It’s the silly season; there is no doubt about it. But last night I went to an office party with a difference.
In the middle of the night, armed with diet cola and chocolate biscuits, I caught the lift to the seventh floor of the Physics building at the University of Melbourne, and suddenly found myself surrounded by physicists drinking beer and talking animatedly. Yes, there was a definite buzz about the room, and it was not from the beer.
When the clock struck midnight there was a hush as the data projector fired up and we all began to watch a live webcast from CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research, based on the France–Switzerland border near Geneva). Why?
Because we may have seen the first signs that the long search for the Standard Model Higgs boson is coming to a conclusion.
The Standard Model is the theory that physicists use to describe the behaviour of fundamental particles and the forces that act between them. One of the main goals of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) research programme is to go beyond the Standard Model, and the Higgs boson could be the key.
Last night, two separate experiments at the LHC, the ATLAS and CMS experiments, presented the status of their results for the search for the Standard Model Higgs boson. Both these experiments analysed several decay channels, found small excesses in the low mass channels, and multiple independent measurements pointing to the region of 124 to 126 GeV.
Basically, these two experiments, both looking for the same thing but in slightly different ways, may have found something. And that something is the holy grail of particle physics: the Higgs boson.
The Higgs boson is the last particle in the Standard Model that is yet to be observed. It is the missing piece that explains how the fundamental building blocks of nature acquire mass. And scientists all over the world are chasing it.
What the results showed last night is that we may, just may have just seen Mr (or Ms) H Boson run half-naked from the shower to the bedroom. We can’t quite be sure because it was out of the corner of our eyes, BUT now we know he (or she) could possibly be hiding, half-clad, in the bedroom.
Or not. We now need to find a way of eking him (or her) out.
Taken together, these results look like a lot more than ‘just a coincidence’. I mean, what are the chances of throwing a six, two times in arrow, then giving the dice to a friend and them doing exactly the same thing? It’s not impossible is it? But it could just be a coincidence all the same.
So, I downed glass after glass of caffeine-loaded beverage and tried to interpret the multitude of graphs and plots and references to something called Monte Carlo methods and exclusion zones and thought, what does this all mean? Have we found it or not?
Maybe. Strongish maybe? In fact Physicists are positive that by mid next year there will be a definitive answer to whether the Higgs boson exists or not. This will be just in time to see an influx of physicists from across the globe charge into Melbourne for the biennial International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP).
Now there’s a physics party not to miss.
For information on Australia’s role in the ATLAS experiment:
Caroline Hamilton is an award-winning novelist and the Communications and Outreach Coordinator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale.
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