News in the hunt for the Higgs particle
It is Tuesday the 13th of December and there is a live link from CERN, the European research centre in Geneva in Switzerland, where researchers, including members of the Niels Bohr Institute, are taking part in the hunt for the Higgs particle. For 45 years we have been looking for this particle, which according to the Standard Model gives other particles mass. What causes everything to weigh something is a mystery to researchers. Perhaps it is a special particle – the Higgs particle. The rumours are swirling, have they succeeded in finding the Higgs particle?
At the Niels Bohr Institute physicists are gathered in two auditoriums, filled to the breaking point. They are involved in the research and they know the results of their own project, the ATLAS project. But it is the combined data from the LHC accelerator that can tell us about new discoveries. The expectations are high.
“The reason that expectations are high is that the LHC accelerator has surpassed all expectations. They anticipated 70,000 billion proton collisions during 2011, but the LHC delivered five times as much data. Since both our own experiment, ATLAS and the CMS experiment have new data from the same location, there is a greater likelihood that it may be due to a particle and the most probable mass for a Higgs boson is 126 GeV (giga-electron-volts)”, explains Professor Peter Hansen, Head of the Discovery Center at the Niels Bohr Institute.
Physicists have a model that describes the fundamental forces of nature and particles. During the twentieth century the model has suggested that at least two of the four known forces of nature, the electromagnetic force, which governs the atoms and molecules, which we ourselves are made of and the weak force, which causes the sun to shine, come from one and the same symmetry principle. The theory has been able to predict a lot of things and all measurements so far have confirmed the theory and received the name the Standard Model as a result.
Important piece of the puzzle
But an important piece of the puzzle is missing – it is the ‘piece’ are particle that gives all particles mass. It is called the Higgs boson and researchers have been looking for it for 45 years. The Higgs boson is a very strange particle, which in theory is the manifestation of “something” which fills all space, even though it is quite empty of normal particles. It is precisely the difficulty of penetrating this “something” in the empty space, which in theory should give the universe’s particles the mass, that they now have.
Then it is 14:00. There is now a direct link to CERN where physicists explain the data in the language of physicists. The researchers in the auditorium listen intensely. The press is also present. If the Higgs has been found, it is hot news. The presentation from CERN lasts longer than expected – more than 1½ hours in total. Data is shown on the screens in the form of graphs, charts and statistical analyses and is described as “starts to become interesting”, “low mass region" and even “beautiful”. But what is the likelihood that it is the Higgs particle?
“The rumours that the Higgs has been found has been confirmed to some extent”, says Peter Hansen. “Billions of proton collisions have been analysed and the data suggests that the Higgs might be located in a region with a mass of 126 GeV (giga-electron-volts). We are cautious to say that it IS the Higgs, but these are the most convincing results so far”.
So ended this day in the month of Christmas as a true physics Higgs-mas.