The Physics Wizard
Higgs Boson Discovery Announced At CERN
By Dr. Alexandra Kopecky
Jul 7, 2012 - 9:01:41 AM

GENEVAOn Wednesday, July 4, in a moment 50 years in the making, the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland announced the discovery of a new particle that might be the Higgs boson.  The long-sought Higgs is the last fundamental particle in the standard model of physics that has eluded observation.  The international broadcast, which drew lines of attendees hours beforehand, was met with cheers and applause across the globe.

The Large Hadron Collider, one of the many exciting projects CERN has undertaken. Photo courtesy of CERN.

Developed in the 1960s, the standard model of particle physics explains the fundamental forces in the universe as interactions between fundamental particles mediated by particles called bosons. The Higgs boson plays the crucial role of mediating the interaction whereby all matter attains mass.  While the other predicted particles have been observed, scientists have searched in vain for evidence of the Higgs for decades.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) accelerates bunches of protons up to nearly the speed of light around a 27-kilometer underground ring beneath France and Switzerland in order to produce high-energy collisions within the detectors around the ring. The high-energy collisions are capable of producing massive exotic particles (like the Higgs boson) which immediately decay into lighter, more stable particles.

Scientists analyzing the collisions use data collected by the detectors to reconstruct the event to the initial collision, searching for a hint of the Higgs or some other new physics.

Detailed results were presented by the conveners of two independent experiments that observe collisions from the LHC. These experiments, the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) and ATLAS, presented the collaborative efforts of an international team of scientists numbering in the thousands that deals with terabytes of data. The results were in agreement, with both experiments citing measurements of a new particle with mass around 126 GeV. The measurements were calculated to have a significance of 5 standard deviations, which translates to a 1 in 3.5 million likelihood of being a statistical fluke.  Fabiola Gianotti, speaking on behalf of ATLAS, quipped, “Thanks, nature!”

Amid standing ovations and tears from scientists witnessing a monumental moment in their life’s work, the director of the CERN particle accelerator, Rolf Heuer, summed it up: “As a layman, I would now say, ”˜I think we have it.’ We have a discovery. We have observed a new particle that is consistent with a Higgs boson.”

While the particle appears to be the Higgs boson, further studies are needed to reveal whether this particle fits into the standard model of physics, a well-studied exotic physics model like Supersymmetry, or something entirely new. As Joe Incandela, speaker for the CMS collaboration, explained, the most exciting part is yet to come. “This boson is a very profound thing we have found,” he said. “We’re reaching into the fabric of the universe in a way we never have done before.”

The Large Hadron Collider, one of the many exciting projects CERN has undertaken. Photo courtesy of CERN.

Dr. Alexandra Kopecky is a physicist studying high-energy physics. She is one of the wizards behind the magic of CERN research.

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