You know what I most enjoy about science? The ever changing, always raging debate about how our models can be improved beyond what we currently have. Our scientific history is filled with models that made sense at the time with the knowledge we had then, only to be torn asunder by some new finding that forces us to rethink the way in which we modelled the observable universe before us. What I find most exciting are the times when we’re wrong as one experiment going completely awry can provide the required insight to shift our perspective considerably. Equally as exciting though is the prospect that we’ve modelled something almost perfectly and our experimental evidence confirms it.
Today we witness the latter with the Large Hadron Collider announcing that they’ve discovered a new particle and it looks suspiciously like the Higgs Boson:
“We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The outstanding performance of the LHC and ATLAS and the huge efforts of many people have brought us to this exciting stage,” said ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, “but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication.”
“The results are preliminary but the 5 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 CMS experiment spokesperson Joe Incandela. “The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this reason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks.”
If you’re scratching your head as to why this discovery is so significant here’s a run down on what the Higgs Boson is in terms of the standard model of particle physics:
For the TLDR crowd the discovery of the Higgs Boson would fit our current model for understanding why particles have mass. Should the Higgs Boson not exist then our current understanding would be invalidated and we’d have to start testing other theories so our model could be made more accurate. For the most part there’s overwhelming evidence to support the standard model thanks to the previous work of other particle accelerators but the Higgs Boson represents the keystone of the whole model. Without it the rest of it needs a whole lot more explanation in order to make it work effectively.
Now whilst this is being lauded as the discovery of the Higgs Boson, and in all likelihood it is, there’s a non-zero chance that the CMS and ATLAS detectors at CERN have actually discovered another new particle that isn’t the Higgs Boson. That would be extremely interesting in and of itself as it would mean that the Higgs Boson, if it exists at all, would more than likely be at some mas even higher than first predicted. From what I can remember the current mass of the Higgs was on the upper limit of the LHC’s capabilities so if this turns out to be some kind of other particle, one that doesn’t exclude the Higgs from existing, we’d probably need to construct another particle accelerator in order to be able to detect it. That or the LHC would need to be upgraded which I admit is far more likely.
Regardless of the true nature of this new particle its discovery is something to get excited about as no matter what it is it means big things for the world of particle physics. The findings won’t see radical technology change or anything like that but it does mean we’re honing in on some of the fundamental aspects of our universe, something which I find incredibly thrilling. The next few months of data verification and probing the properties of this new particle will be a very interesting time and I can’t wait to hear more about this new boson.