Exciting post: spoor of the Higgs Boson
Read this exciting post, which begins:
I’ve been looking for the Higgs boson for almost 20 years.
So there I was, on a Saturday morning in December, at CERN as it so happened, when I saw the graph we’d been working towards all year. At first I thought it was some mistake — the hair literally rose up on the back of my neck, and I said: “Holy crap! What’s that?”
Where do I start? For a long time now our field of particle physics has been totally obsessed with finding this beast we call the Higgs. We have a very successful mathematical model we call the Standard Model which has accounted all too well for hundreds of different experiments and observations of the fundamental particles in nature and how they interact.
My favorite analogy is that a hundred years ago we had the periodic table of the elements, which organized them all into neat rows and columns according to their chemical properties, from the halogens to the noble gases. But a hundred years ago, no one had a clue as to why this was so. It took another thirty years of experimenting and theorizing to figure it out. That led to quantum mechanics, the solution to the hydrogen atom, and then the understanding of more complex atoms and molecules. Then it all broke open: nuclear energy, silicon electronics, computers, cell phones…not to mention NSA wire tapping and YouTube. But I digress.
Now we have a neat little periodic table of the smallest of the small, the fundamental particles we call quarks and leptons:
It took the last 40 years since quarks were first imagined to get to the point where we are now. This neat three-generation structure, though, is absolutely begging for answers to these questions: Why do they have such different masses? Why just three generations? Why the weird fractional charges? (Or is the charge of the electron three more fundamental units of charge?)
The Higgs boson is a particle which is essentially a by-product of the Standard Model, a sort of physical manifestation of a hypothetical “Higgs field” which permeates all space-time and with which all particles have some level of interaction. The more interaction with the Higgs field, the more massive a particle is. We call it a “boson” as opposed to a “fermion” (all the quarks and leptons are fermions) because it is thought to have no spin, no intrinsic angular momentum.
The Standard Model gave us no guidance, though, 30 years ago as to what the mass of the Higgs boson might be, except that it’s probably a good deal less than 1000 times more massive than the proton. So, 20 years ago, we had an accelerator at CERN in Switzerland called LEP that was the first one that we thought might be able to produce the Higgs. I was on one of the four big experiments there, called ALEPH (a mythical monster with eyes in all directions) and we started from the smallest masses we could, and worked our way up from there. We kind of thought we had found it once, but it was a sort of experimental mirage.
I moved back to the US in 1993 and took up the hunt at…