The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics was announced this morning and it is probably the least surprising Nobel of the year. People have been speculating for months that the award was going to be centered around the discovery of the Higgs Boson — the subatomic particle that helps explain why everything else in the Universe has mass. The Higgs Boson, itself, has been the physics pop culture celebrity for the last few years. It's even got its own blues.
So the big question going into today's announcement wasn't what discovery would the award be about. The question was who was going to end up being the named human recipients of said award. This was always going to be a tough call. The whole reason you've heard about the Higgs is because of a long-running effort to experimentally prove whether or not it existed. The very nature of experimental particle physics makes it a collaborative enterprise — proving a theory requires huge, expensive machines, international institutions, and lots of physicists. The Nobel Prize, meanwhile, can only be given to three recipients at a time. (Although an institute, like, say, CERN, could have been one of those, at least hypothetically.) The Nobel Committee gut this Gordian Knot by skipping over the experimental physicists altogether and giving the 2013 award to two theorists, alone — Peter Higgs and Francois Englert. Read the rest
I got to join in on a great conversation this morning on Minnesota Public Radio's "The Daily Circuit", all about the Higgs Boson and what it means for the future of physics.
This is a fascinating issue. Finding the Higgs Boson (if that is, indeed, what scientists have done) means that all the particles predicted by the Standard Model of physics have now been found. But that's not necessarily good news for physicists. For one thing, it would have been a lot more interesting to break the Standard Model than to uphold it. For another, we're now left with a model for the Universe that mostly works but still has some awkward holes — holes that it might be hard to get the funding to fill.
Daily Circuit host Kerry Miller, Harvard physics chair Melissa Franklin, and I spent 45 minutes talking about what is simultaneously a beautiful dream and a waking nightmare for the physics world. And I got to make a "Half Baked" reference in a conversation about particle physics, so you know it's a good time, too.
Listen to the whole conversation at Minnesota Public Radio's website. Read the rest
The discovery of the particle that is most likely the Higgs Boson was met with wild-eyed excitement almost everywhere except CERN, writes physicist Glenn Starkman at Scientific American Blogs. That's because it means the theoretical Standard Model of Physics is probably on the right track. Which means there aren't any crazy inaccuracies leading to awesome mysteries that must be solved. Which means experimental particle physics haz a sad — and more than a little depressive ennui. (Via Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic) Read the rest
The two papers documenting evidence that CERN has found a particle matching the description of the Higgs Boson have cleared peer review and are now published in the journal Physics Letters B. Ironically, that journal is the offspring of Physics Letters, the journalwhich rejected Peter Higgs' 1964 paper that first hypothesized the existence of the Higgs Boson. Higgs' paper was eventually published by a different journal, Physical Review Letters. You can read it online. (Many thanks to Rachel Courtland for the history, and to Jennifer Ouellette for the Higgs paper link.) Read the rest
It takes 98 total pages and two different research papers to describe the discovery of the particle that CERN scientists believe is probably the Higgs Boson. The papers have now been submitted to peer review. But, if insanely dense physics research is your idea of good August beach read, you can check out both in their entirety now on arXiv. Read the rest
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The entire Internet has spent the better part of a year talking about the Higgs Boson with an enthusiasm usually reserved for LOLcats. Despite that, though, the vocabulary of particle physics remains pretty damned confusing for the majority of us. Thankfully, The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta has a great explainer that will help you more easily make sense of Higgs-related news and commentary. What's the difference between a fermion and a boson? Is Higgs the only boson? And where to quarks fit into all of this. Read it, and all will become clearer. Read the rest
Peter Higgs (of the Higgs Boson Higgses) would like to correct a couple of misconceptions.
First off, the discovery of the Higgs Boson (if that is, indeed, what has been discovered) neither proves nor disproves the existence of a deity. In fact, the Higgs Boson has nothing to do with God at all. It's important to physicists, sure. As we've talked about here before, Higgs Bosons are thought to be a key part of explaining why some sub-atomic particles have more mass than others. But that does not really overlap with religious significance. In fact, according to Higgs, the name "God Particle" is actually a politeness-corrupted version of "Goddam Particle"—so called because the goddam particle was so difficult to find.
Second: Over the last couple of days, you may have been wondering what practical applications could come out of the discovery of the Higgs Boson. Peter Higgs has a response for that. To paraphrase: "Damned if I know."
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“It’s around for a very short time. It’s probably about a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second. I don’t know how you apply that to anything useful," Higgs said.
“It’s hard enough with particles which have longer life times for decay to make them useful. Some of the ones which have life times of only maybe a millionth of a second or so are used in medical applications. How you could have an application of this thing which is very short lived, I have no idea.”
But Alan Walker, a colleague from the university’s school of physics and astronomy, said there had been the same uncertainty when the electron was discovered.
Typography enthusiasts "moved by Dr Fabiola Gianotti's incredibly strange choice of font in announcing the recent results of Cern's ATLAS collaboration" are petitioning Microsoft to rename Comic Sans to "Comic Cerns." Cosmic Sans might work, too! Read the rest
In light of recent images released by CERN, reader Snark^ reports that the Higgs Boson particle has been given a new nickname by Redditors. Behold: The FSM Particle.
On the off chance that you did not spend the 4th of July glued to your computer, you should be aware by now that the Higgs Boson particle might have been found. Maybe. Or, rather, at least one of the Higgs Boson particles might have been found. It's confusing. If you want some help cutting through the hype, I recommend that you check out the great links in our round-up of Higgs Boson news and analysis.
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Back in December, I told you that physicists at CERN thought that by this summer they might be able to say, once and for all, whether the Higgs Boson particle exists. As a quick reminder, here's how I described that particle in a post from last year:
You know that reality is like a Lego model, it's made up of smaller parts. We are pieced together out of atoms. Atoms are made from protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are made of quarks. (Quarks and electrons, as far as we know, are elementary particles, with nothing smaller inside.) When you're talking about the Higgs Boson, you're talking about the mass of these particles. Here's an imperfect analogy: A top quark, the most massive particle we know of, is like an elephant. An electron, on the other hand, is more like a mouse. And nobody knows for certain why those differences exist.
There is a theory, though. Back in the 1960s, a guy named Peter Higgs came up with the idea that all these particles exist in a field, and their mass is a reflection of how much they interact with that field. Heavy particles have a lot of interaction. Lighter particles are relatively standoffish. If this field exists, the Higgs Boson is the tiny thing it's made of.
So that's the Higgs Boson—what it (theoretically) is and why that matters. And now, scientists at CERN are saying that they might have found it. What's that mean? Basically, they found a new sub-atomic particle that seems to fit the theoretical description of what a Higgs Boson should be like. Read the rest
Big science news today: Scientists at Europe's CERN research center have discovered a new subatomic particle believed to be a basic building block of the universe, which appears to be the "boson" imagined and named half a century ago by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs. And Stephen Hawking loses a $100 bet. Many of us on Twitter know that we should be excited by all of this, but have no idea what it really means, having dope-smoked our way through Physics class in high school. This animation helps. Still: If you can't join 'em, LOL at 'em. Here are some of the better #higgsjokes I faved on Twitter after the news broke. Did I miss any good ones? Let me know in the comments. And read Maggie's post.
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Data from Fermilab's shuttered Tevatron accelerator seems to support the data released by CERN last December. These two different accelerators are both seeing a signal that could be the Higgs Boson in roughly the same place. To quote the New York Times: "It has led to a joke in physics circles now: The Higgs boson has not been discovered yet, but its mass is 125 billion electron volts." (Via dsut in Submitterator) Read the rest
Last Tuesday, particle physicists at CERN did not announce that they had found the Higgs Boson particle. Nor did they announce that they had not found the Higgs Boson. Instead, what we got was an update on the state of the research. But it's a really tantalizing update.
The Higgs Boson is a popular, but confusing, bit of physics. You know that reality is like a Lego model, it's made up of smaller parts. We are pieced together out of atoms. Atoms are made from protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are made of quarks. (Quarks and electrons, as far as we know, are elementary particles, with nothing smaller inside.) When you're talking about the Higgs Boson, you're talking about the mass of these particles. Here's an imperfect analogy: A top quark, the most massive particle we know of, is like an elephant. An electron, on the other hand, is more like a mouse. And nobody knows for certain why those differences exist.
There is a theory, though. Back in the 1960s, a guy named Peter Higgs came up with the idea that all these particles exist in a field, and their mass is a reflection of how much they interact with that field. Heavy particles have a lot of interaction. Lighter particles are relatively standoffish. If this field exists, the Higgs Boson is the tiny thing it's made of. Fermilab physicist Don Lincoln has a really great video explaining this, where he compares the Higgs field to water, and Higgs Bosons to the molecules that make up water. Read the rest
I just finished watching particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti on CERN's live webcast, talking about the hunt for the Higgs Boson. I'll be writing more about this later today or tomorrow, but I know a lot of you are really curious to find out what this public announcement was all about. Shorter version: The public announcement wasn't really an announcement of anything. Instead, it was more like a year-in-review presentation. CERN has made some good progress in the hunt for the Higgs Boson, they've been able to narrow their search to small field, and they have seen some potentially interesting things happening within that field. But there's not really enough here to say, one way or the other, whether the Higgs Boson is there. What they can say: 2012 is likely to be a really exciting year for particle physics, as researchers dive into experiments that will help them figure out what those "interesting things" really are. Read the rest