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A Rendezvous with Destiny for a Generation of Physicists
July 4, 2012 5:05 AM   Subscribe

What began with one man in a patent office and the insight that mass and energy are the same has culminated at the largest particle collider ever built, employing 2400 full-time employees and 10,000 visiting scientists: CERN has announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, a major vindication for the Standard Model of particle physics.

The announcement was marked by celebration "everywhere that members of a curious species have dedicated their lives and fortunes to the search for their origins in a dark universe." (NYT, very poetic) 1,000 people waited overnight to be in the auditorium during the announcement; Peter Higgs was given a standing ovation; the presenting scientists were interrupted again and again by waves of applause.

Scientists are carefully calling the new boson a "Higgs-like particle," stating that it's unclear yet whether the new boson behaves exactly as the hypothetical Higgs is predicted to behave. The Higgs is thought to be responsible for explaining why particles have mass, by creating a Higgs field that is like, in the traditional metaphor that you will see in every article, a pool of molasses that causes mass to "stick" to other particles as they move through it. (Wired has some pretty good explanation in their coverage of the announcement.)

Higgs himself appeared to weep (photo at 12:10 p.m. in the liveblog).

However, the results are not exactly as predicted, and this is good news for physics. Notes the NYTimes, "There are hints, but only hints so far, that some of the channels are overproducing the Higgs while others might be underproducing, clues maybe that there is more than the Standard Model at work."


Physics for the sake of physics not your thing? How about the ROI for industry? For every euro invested by corporations, they got 3.5 euros in return from new technology, including silicon detectors.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (97 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
particle duality
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:11 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


A 125 GeV Higgs might fit more comfortably in a supersymmetric model than the standard one, which would mean that they didn't just discover one particle, but dozens.
posted by empath at 5:12 AM on July 4, 2012


Cocktail party tonight...
posted by Segundus at 5:15 AM on July 4, 2012


1,000 people waited overnight to be in the auditorium during the announcement; Peter Higgs was given a standing ovation; the presenting scientists were interrupted again and again by waves of applause.

The world needs a lot more of this.
posted by mhoye at 5:17 AM on July 4, 2012 [34 favorites]


Peter Higgs was given a standing ovation

Later they did the Wave.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:20 AM on July 4, 2012 [54 favorites]


I can't wait to hear what Yoda has to say about this.
posted by Camofrog at 5:22 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


mhoye, I agree. I really thought the NYTimes author did a great job of catching the awe and beauty of physics, with his rather purple prose. It was a tiny bit overwritten in places (bet he's been polishing that since December), but he manages to convey WHY it's so exciting and beautiful a discovery to laymen by waxing poetic about the grandness of the universe.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:26 AM on July 4, 2012


Peter Higgs was given a standing ovation

Later they did the Wave.


Looked like they were doing the Particle to me.
posted by Etrigan at 5:30 AM on July 4, 2012 [39 favorites]


Apparently they only got a 4.9σ effect. I don't believe anything that's less than 5σ.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:30 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, shouldn't this be a "Rendezvous with density?"
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:34 AM on July 4, 2012 [30 favorites]


Glad to hear scientists have completed their hunt for the smoking gun cosmic glue god particle.

Now all we need to find is a way of explaining it that doesn't torture so many metaphors.

I'm looking at you Guardian.
posted by Acey at 5:35 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought they needed a full 6 sigma to be really really sure.
posted by sammyo at 5:37 AM on July 4, 2012


Acey: "Now all we need to find is a way of explaining it that doesn't torture so many metaphors. "
Here you go.
posted by brokkr at 5:47 AM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


i hate to be that person but... this seems like a fairly uninteresting result. We already know that the standard model isn't a theory of everything, so confirmation that the Higgs mechanism works isn't actually all that exciting. we aren't interested in things that confirm the standard model but things that are definitively outside of it and 125Ev doesn't seem very definitive.

This seems like billions of dollars and thousands of careers spent mapping out one little epicycle. Maybe further results will go somewhere exciting but I it seems to me that the era of the particle accelerator is definitively over, at least in terms of ground-breaking physics.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:53 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish newspapers had stories like this every day, and only stories like this. It's a good feeling, like we're still going forward. I don't quite understand the Higgs boson, but I understand it's important and was worth the money to look for it.
posted by Jehan at 6:03 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The LHC is an utterly amazing piece of engineering. I don't understand one tenth of the physics at work but I know enough to understand the gob-smacking work done on the computing infrastructure; extrapolating that up to all the other little bits of engineering that must have gone into designing, building and running the thing...awe inspiring.

And it worked! Manly squee!
posted by Skorgu at 6:07 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


i hate to be that person but... this seems like a fairly uninteresting result.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:53 PM on July 4 [+] [!]


eponapathe... oh whatever. sorry, sorry, couldn't help it

In about twenty thousand years -- a thousand generations -- geologically nothing, cosmologically less so -- we've gone from melting shiny rocks in fires in caves to being able to bring enough energy to bear to poke around in deeply hidden bits of the machinery of the universe and interpret what we find there. We're the same animals we were, with the same brains.

Whether it's a good way to spend a few billion dollars and a few thousand careers is a question on an entirely different scale. On a long enough timescale everything human is uninteresting and futile. But there's not really much we can do (with the knowledge we have now) with energy at this scale other than (a) tinker about with little bits of the universe to see what they do or (b) blow shit up, so I'll chalk up a happy victory for column A, and go back to pretending to do science while drinking to those who actually do.

er i mean i'll do science 'til it's time to quit, then drink to... yeah, okay, i'll see myself out.
posted by Vetinari at 6:11 AM on July 4, 2012 [37 favorites]


Maybe further results will go somewhere exciting but I it seems to me that the era of the particle accelerator is definitively over, at least in terms of ground-breaking physics.

Well, there are many other things one can do with a particle accelerator, including trying to make quark-gluon plasma and studying neutral particle oscillations. Unfortunately none of these things seemed to persuade the politicians to open their wallets quite as freely as the purpose SM Higgs detecting machines did.

But I totally agree with the sentiment. I don't see what the excitement is about.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 6:11 AM on July 4, 2012


Are they sure they didn't find the Riggs boson? They can tell because it induces other particles to say, "I'm getting too massive for this shit."
posted by Eideteker at 6:11 AM on July 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


Thank you brokkr!
posted by pjenks at 6:12 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fuck yeah! Pretty exciting stuff; and ennui.bz, there are some indications that the Higgs-like isn't quite standard, opening the door to supersymmetry.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:12 AM on July 4, 2012


The Large Hadron Rap has been in my head since this morning.
posted by gemmy at 6:16 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought they needed a full 6 sigma to be really really sure.
When particle physics was a smaller field, the discovery criterion was 3σ significance. After the colliders began running, though, there was an army of people looking for 3σ fluctuations in tens of thousands of data sets per year. The probability of a 3σ statistical fluctuation is, loosely speaking, one per ten thousand data sets, so this criterion would have led to an unacceptably large number of "discoveries" which would later turn out to have been nothing. That was when the idea that "5σ is discovery" became common.

I think I learned this either from Franklin or Galison, both good books about how this process has evolved.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 6:18 AM on July 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


I knew enough that the Higgs boson was important for furthering our understanding of mass and gravity, but it wasn't until this morning that it came to my attention that this was the last unverified piece of the Standard Model. Provided that this "Higgs-like" particle satisfies all of the expectations dictated by the model, of course -- as noted, there are rumors and initial observations suggesting that the simplest Higgs model isn't completely correct.

So, question: if it is verified that this particle does satisfy the Standard Model requirements -- or if not, once scientists discover all of the particles necessary to account for some other model of the Higgs mechanism -- does that then mean no more new particles? I know that there are things that the Standard Model doesn't explain, but would physics be forced to enter the era of sub-particle discovery (or something entirely novel like new dimensions or string theory) to find those explanations? Finishing a Complete Model, whether it's the standard one or a supersymmetric variant, seems like a greater accomplishment than any of the individual pieces.

Of course, maybe I'm just hoping for no new particles because I've got a good handle on electrons and photons but still don't understand quarks very well. Neutrinos? Bosons? Might as well be discussing tachyons and chronitons...
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:29 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the standard model is epicyclist nonsense, does this mean they just found the sun?
posted by crayz at 6:33 AM on July 4, 2012


ceribus peribus: We're still waiting on a particle that can serve as the cold dark matter needed in cosmology and astrophysics.
posted by edd at 6:38 AM on July 4, 2012


ennui.bz: i hate to be that person but... this seems like a fairly uninteresting result. This seems like billions of dollars and thousands of careers spent mapping out one little epicycle.

Is this just a case of "Everything is amazing, and nobody's happy" (Louis CK)? Maybe a bit.

On the other hand, at least one prominent physicist (Lee Smolin) tends to agree--not without controversy--with the above sentiments, particularly with the analogy implied by the snarky use of the word "epicycle".
posted by mondo dentro at 6:38 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


in the traditional metaphor that you will see in every article, a pool of molasses that causes mass to "stick" to other particles as they move through it

The ubiquitous molasses metaphor reminds me of the story about the quantum physicist who confessed that his knowledge of billiards came solely from physics textbooks:
“For some reason the billiard ball has come to play the role of the prototype of a classical particle in textbooks on quantum mechanics. The author, of course, conforms to this tradition. It may amuse the reader to know that the author has never played billiards and has never held a billiard ball in his hands. His knowledge of the alleged properties of billiard balls is, therefore, book knowledge, derived from texts on quantum mechanics.” - Eyvind Hugo Wichmann
Personally, I've never seen or touched molasses in my life, but I imagine it to be thick and goopy. Everything I know about it I know from reading pop science explanations of the Higgs Boson. I thought it was the American word for golden syrup, but apparently not.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:39 AM on July 4, 2012 [20 favorites]


Foundational science is perhaps the most important kind of science. It tells us where things come from. It tells us not just how things work, which one can deduce with a piece of lodestone and a string, but why. And with "why" the doors open to practical applications that "how" could never reveal. Yes, things like bombs that blow up the planet. But bombs that blow up the planet (and all the good stuff that comes of beginner particle physics) are the result of calculations done 30 years earlier. What magic will we have uncovered based on the "why" that we are uncovering now? No, we don't know, but if we never start on those journeys on learning why, we'll never find out where they can lead us. That's kind of what being human is about: seeing a cave, trying to make a torch to light it, then wandering in and seeing what's there. Sometimes it's nothing, and sometimes it's a bear, and sometimes it's smoke handprints, and sometimes it's a rusty door with a lock we don't understand and have to puzzle out. It's a human thing; bringing light to darkness.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:40 AM on July 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


Personally, I've never seen or touched molasses in my life, but I imagine it to be thick and goopy. Everything I know about it I know from reading pop science explanations of the Higgs Boson.

Only thing is, this is a molasses that requires a force balance proportional to acceleration, not velocity, as with the kind you mind find in a pantry. Weird stuff!
posted by mondo dentro at 6:42 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looks like somebody didn't eat their Wheaties...
posted by symbioid at 6:42 AM on July 4, 2012


Of course, maybe I'm just hoping for no new particles because I've got a good handle on electrons and photons but still don't understand quarks very well.

The layman explanation of bosons and fermions I received from a friend is: fermions (quarks and leptons) are the constiuents of elementary particles like electrons and (when assembled) protons and neutrons, and bosons are interactive "force carriers" so: photons carry electromagnetic force, Higgs Bosons carry mass, and gluons carry the strong force that binds atoms together.

A quick perusal of Wikipedia suggests that this is foolishly simplistic, though.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:48 AM on July 4, 2012


We're still waiting on a particle that can serve as the cold dark matter needed in cosmology and astrophysics

For me, the thing about "cold dark matter" is that it says that what we think of as matter is really only relevant to our current epoch and multiple of the planck scale. so what we think of as "fundamental" theories of matter are only convenient descriptions of the properties of matter in one small period in the whole history of matter which is still largely unknown in a "earth center of the universe" level of ignorance sort of way.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:04 AM on July 4, 2012


I once read that most discovery was not the result of someone saying 'Eureka!' but rather: 'huh, that's odd...'

I like living in the future.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:11 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Personally, I've never seen or touched molasses in my life, but I imagine it to be thick and goopy.... I thought it was the American word for golden syrup, but apparently not.

Oh, now I so badly want to send you a jar of molasses, L.P. Hatecraft. And maybe a good recipe for cookies you can make with it.
posted by hippybear at 7:27 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


But can we use it to make a) jet packs or b) sex robots?

Not so smart now, eh nerdy physics dudes?!
posted by bardic at 7:38 AM on July 4, 2012


I don't really understand this or find it meaningful at all, but congrats to the people who do. Physics is something I always wanted to find interesting, but eventually gave up on. It's too steeped in abstraction and specialized knowledge for me to find anything truly meaningful in the deeper waters.

I still like to read pop physics books (especially Michio Kaku, for having and being able to evoke a sense of wonder that my sense of wonder clicks with and gets excited by) but I treat them more as allegory; if there's nothing that can be drawn out of the allegory, I tend to set them aside.
posted by byanyothername at 7:42 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey ennui, here's a list of CERN-developed technologies with industrial applications, from the web and grid computing innovations to cryogenics and medical imaging.

Science for science's sake requires such massive advances in technology to be able to DO the experiments that it virtually always bleeds off into really cool advances for "practical" things. When spending billions of euros results in 3.5 times that in returns, that does seem to be a good way to spend billions of euros, yes.

I mean, you've probably got dozens of bits of NASA technology in your house (space blankets, Dustbuster, memory foam ...). I mean, my baby eats freeze-dried astronaut yogurt puffs, which allow self-feeding but prevent choking by melting away when in contact with saliva, that you can get at the supermarket for a buck or two. I mean, seriously, massive advances in food technology to enable dudes to eat reasonably healthy food in space has, in 60 years, ramified out from NASA into the baby food aisle of every supermarket in America. It's astounding.

Not only did it take less than 50 years from pen-and-paper proposal of the particle to massively grid-computed super-collided discovery of it, which is doubly incredible when you consider particle accelerator technology is less than 100 years old, but there have been many, many industrial applications from the pursuit of pure science. Just in case "solving another little piece of the universe" isn't cool enough.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:47 AM on July 4, 2012 [15 favorites]


brokkr: good shout!
posted by Acey at 8:01 AM on July 4, 2012


@Eyebrows McGee

you realize we could have just sent robots to eat in space, right
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:10 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


1,000 people waited overnight to be in the auditorium during the announcement; Peter Higgs was given a standing ovation; the presenting scientists were interrupted again and again by waves of applause.

Well having watched a good chunk of both the CMS and ATLAS presentations (last half of the former, all of the later) I don't know if 'interrupted again and again' is how I'd describe it, though there was a substantial applause interruption towards the end of the ATLAS presentation when it became pretty clear where the results were heading. But given the context we should be accurate about these things surely.

The most interesting thing to me is how both pointed out that these results are preliminary, important no doubt, but now the real work starts to really pin this stuff down. That's were we're going to see the potentially interesting stuff that doesn't quite fall into the theoretical models in the way that was expected, and which will open up new avenues of enquiry.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:14 AM on July 4, 2012


As a former SSC employee, I'd like to offer a hearty "Fuck, yeah!" to the CERN team. You did it, guys (and gals). Huge, huge achievement.

Although, it's a little sobering to realize that I'm essentially celebrating the fact that my government's short-sightedness in this particular case only set back human progress by something like a decade...
posted by sourcequench at 8:24 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Dear @CERN: Every time you use Comic Sans on a powerpoint, God kills the Schrödinger's cat;Please think of the cat" - Twitter post by fred_SSC
posted by bitteroldman at 8:25 AM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


OK. The comic sans thing is a funny... but then I realized that the mockery sheds a far worse light on people with design backgrounds than it does on physicists (and I very much appreciate design).

PHYSICIST: Behold! After decades of striving to harness the human imagination to technical ingenuity, we have uncovered new Mysteries of the Universe.

GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Your font sucks! LOL.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:35 AM on July 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


Philosopher dirtbike: though indeed 4.9 sigma is below where particle physicists draw the line for discovery (for the reasons that fantabulous timewaster described), we actually have two different experiments, looking at completely different datasets, that are achieving >4.5 sigma evidence for a particle with a mass of ~125 GeV.

Since the probabilities of discovery from each experiment are totally independent (although they use the same accelerator, they are looking at completely separate collision events, for instance), the significance goes up when you combine the two (basically, (combined significance)^2 = sqrt( (significance 1)^2 + (significance 2)^2), so 2 independent 5 sigma results have the same probability of occurring by chance as a ~7 sigma result).

This is why CERN can safely claim discovery at this point, and no one will quibble about 4.9 vs 5 sigma.
posted by janewman at 8:38 AM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


So the molasses metaphor talks about how some particles are more affected by the field than others...but is there any reason why that is? Why a proton has more of a Higgs interaction than an electron, for example?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:47 AM on July 4, 2012


Question: what does this do to relativity? Is space curved, or is the Higgs field simply denser?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:59 AM on July 4, 2012


SCIENCE!
posted by ninjew at 9:04 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Personally, I've never seen or touched molasses in my life

NOW I'M CRYING AGAIN GODDAMNIT
posted by samofidelis at 9:08 AM on July 4, 2012


It's worth noting that they did not discover the Higgs boson. Rather, they found a boson with even spin. To confirm it is the Higgs, they need to measure its spin, to confirm it is 0.
posted by cap11235 at 9:12 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK. The comic sans thing is a funny... but then I realized that the mockery sheds a far worse light on people with design backgrounds than it does on physicists (and I very much appreciate design).

PHYSICIST: Behold! After decades of striving to harness the human imagination to technical ingenuity, we have uncovered new Mysteries of the Universe.

GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Your font sucks! LOL.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:35 on July 4 [5 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]

It is difficult to conceive of a way to express how strongly I agree with this statement.
posted by samofidelis at 9:14 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


CheeseDigestsAll: "So the molasses metaphor talks about how some particles are more affected by the field than others...but is there any reason why that is? Why a proton has more of a Higgs interaction than an electron, for example"

Take a look at this explanation by physicsmatt in the other Higgs thread.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:15 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Philip Gibbs has already done some unofficial combination of the two experiments. It's 6 sigma in the interval 110-150 for the diphotonic channel, which is actually too much, in excess of 2.4 sigma over the standard model.

So they'll have to look into that; other than that it appears that the boson they found is the Higgs.
posted by valdesm at 9:20 AM on July 4, 2012


It is difficult to conceive of a way to express how strongly I agree with this statement.
posted by samofidelis at 9:14 AM on July 4 [+] [!]


I don't disagree that the font quibbling is a minor issue, but damn it made it hard to read the information they were trying to present. Have you ever read an entire essay in Comic Sans? I have - it does affect the readability of the content contained within, and that was with content I knew back to front.

And I'd hardly agree that it's mockery, which is quite a loaded term. Personally I'm quizzically amused, it was an amusing choice of font.

In a lot of ways their graphical design wasn't ideal - and?. Unsurprisingly experimental physicist make for terrible graphic designers. Graphic designers generally aren't so great at experimental physics either.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:32 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Though maybe if it was on a professional white background....
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:33 AM on July 4, 2012


I don't disagree that the font quibbling is a minor issue... And I'd hardly agree that it's mockery...

The word "mockery" appears in the linked article's title. But, yea. It's a minor thing and a derail. It just triggered my cranky reflex.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:42 AM on July 4, 2012


mondo dentro: OK. The comic sans thing is a funny... but then I realized that the mockery sheds a far worse light on people with design backgrounds than it does on physicists (and I very much appreciate design).


This characterization infuriates me tremendously. Those of us who were watching from the US stayed up almost to dawn to watch the announcement online. That is not mockery: that is love.

This is a matter of passions colliding in unfortunate ways. We love physics (we stayed up until almost dawn to watch physics physicists talk for Higgs sake!), and we love design. When we see something that violates our loves, we react. (Do you not do the same when your mother is insulted? Your brother? Your best friend?) Of course we're going to comment when comic sans is used. To us who are designers, it is as if the Time Cube guy was giving the keynote speech at the AAAS annual meeting. We love both design and physics.

Let me say that again: We love both.

We have have dual loves and we think of them together. In fact, we *want* to think of science and design together. The best scientists always are strong creatives, and the best creatives are often systematic. And the best of both always, always think across disciplines.

So are we going to comment every time someone uses comic sans in an inappropriate context? Hell, yes. It would be against our passions not to.
posted by thebestsophist at 10:02 AM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


But to get things back on track, fuck I love living in the present.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 10:04 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My family has a tradition that after christmas we work on a jigsaw puzzle together, on and off when we're not doing other things. You know those areas which are all just annoying graduations of colour, where all you can do is just try pieces and see if they fit more or less. Slightly more or less yellow bit might go here or not. Might go over there in the sunset/daffodil/Lamborghini. Who knows? I just want to watch the Cricket.

If only there was a way to reduce such complexity.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 10:28 AM on July 4, 2012


thebestsophist: So are we going to comment every time someone uses comic sans in an inappropriate context? Hell, yes. It would be against our passions not to.

It always perplexes me when someone uses their self-proclaimed passion to urge others to keep their mouths shut. I love art and science. Indeed, I'm very passionate about the connection between the two, since they both tell me--make me feel--something very important about consciousness itself. The article that was linked was a snarky, shallow "LOL your font sucks" article. It made a mockery of my passion with its stupidity.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:34 AM on July 4, 2012


Back to this FPP. Just found this nice primer, Higgs Bosons for Everyone (via eschaton).
posted by mondo dentro at 10:39 AM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry mondo dentro, but you keep saying 'the article that was linked', in an fpp with multiple links, in a thread with many links. I'm having a hard time finding what you're referring and objecting to. Perhaps you're just being ironically indeterminate? Or more possibly I missed/am missing something.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 10:52 AM on July 4, 2012


OK, now I've read several explanations and I'm quite sure I'll never understand it (in the physics sense, anyway, though I can grok the field idea in general), I still have questions.

Everyone says that that Higgs field is what gives mass, but they all say "forget about gravity for the moment". That seems weird because I think of gravity as being tightly tied to mass. Is this not so, and if it is, why doesn't anyone want to talk about gravity?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:21 AM on July 4, 2012


Where does the Higgs Boson fit on this chart? (Or does that question not even make sense?)
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:44 AM on July 4, 2012


@CheesDigestsAll AFAIK, the Higgs field is a theoretical solution to make the Standard Model be coherent with the observed masses of the elemental particles. Finding the Higgs particle is an experimental way to confirm the Higgs field is coherent with those observations.

Unfortunately the Standard Model does not explain gravity, whether or not there is a Higgs field. Theoretical physicists don't really need to wait for confirmation to further develop their work, so if we don't have a unified theory by now, it's for lack of a way to connect gravity to the SM (with or without Higgs), not for lack of empirical evidence.
posted by valdesm at 11:45 AM on July 4, 2012


@Pruitt-Igoe it belongs in the right column, with the other four bosons
posted by valdesm at 11:56 AM on July 4, 2012


CheeseDigestsAll, you can try my comment on the other thread. It might not be as understandable as I'd like, but I tried to explain what the Higgs is all about without too much analogy.

Shorter version: the mass of a particle can be thought of as "the minimum amount of energy you need to have a particle." A massless photon can have arbitrarily little kinetic energy, while an electron needs to have at least 0.511 keV for the rest mass, plus whatever kinetic energy on top of that. Gravity couples to energy (really, something called the stress-energy tensor), so having mass means having energy, means gravity pulls you around.

The Higgs is responsible for only <1% of your mass. The majority comes from the strong interaction, which makes it impossible to have 3 quarks (which are very light, and get their mass through the Higgs) without having a lot of extra gluons and such around them. Those other particles end up having kinetic energy, and so a proton requires 1 GeV just to exist; and that's what we call the mass.

The Higgs only gives mass to the fundamental fermions (electrons, muons, taus, and the quarks), and the W and Z vector bosons of the weak force. See my other comment for much more detail.
posted by physicsmatt at 12:06 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


valdesm and Pruitt-Igoe; to some degree, the higgs needs it's own column on that chart. It's a boson (integer spin particle), so it can be a force carrier, like the photon, W, Z, and gluon, but those 4 are spin-1 and are the vector bosons for long-range forces. Those forces are the result of certain symmetries in nature (called gauge symmetries), and the Higgs isn't.

The fermions are spin-1/2 particles, which means they are "matter" fields. This is because spin-1/2 particles obey something called Fermi-Dirac statistics (unlike bosons, which respect Bose-Einstein statistics; one are called fermions, the other bosons). Fermi statistics mean that two fermions cannot have exactly the same quantum numbers, that is, no two fermions can be in the exact same state. Thus, I cannot just keep piling fermions on top of each other. This is a handy property to have if you want to build a macroscopic object out of a bunch of particles. Bosons can just keep having the same state as each other (and in fact, love to do so under certain conditions), so they don't make good building blocks for "stuff" like you and me. And that's what the fermions are matter fields and bosons aren't.

The Higgs is the only "fundamental" scalar (spin-0) particle we think we know about (still have to couch things in hypotheticals, even after the announcements). This creates certain problems with our understanding of physics at high scales that we don't have with fermions and vector bosons, which I think I talked about here.
posted by physicsmatt at 12:20 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's usually my instinct when big discoveries in physics are announced to wonder what the discovery means in terms of technology. Is this milestone significant in that regard? Like, will it help us understand space more so we can build better ships?
posted by lazaruslong at 12:36 PM on July 4, 2012


For a really straightforward and readable explanation, see havewefoundthehiggsbosonyet.org.
posted by jcreigh at 12:59 PM on July 4, 2012


Pruitt-Igoe: "Where does the Higgs Boson fit on this chart? (Or does that question not even make sense?"

Look at the Incandela's slides for the CMS presentation here. There is a chart of the Standard Model on page 7 that includes the Higgs boson.
posted by Dr. Zira at 1:33 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dr. Zira: Thanks!
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:10 PM on July 4, 2012


> Discovering the Higgs boson is not likely to radically change life for most people — it will not lead to better communications devices or fancy new electronics.

That's heartening. So the taser survives?
posted by de at 2:14 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is everyone pronouncing it "boatswain" these days? I'm pretty sure that in my undergraduate days two decades ago is was pronounced 'bo-zon'. The BBC reporters are all saying "boatswain", however...
posted by pipeski at 2:21 PM on July 4, 2012


It's usually my instinct when big discoveries in physics are announced to wonder what the discovery means in terms of technology. Is this milestone significant in that regard? Like, will it help us understand space more so we can build better ships?

No. This basically does nothing except further our understanding of the universe ever so slightly. We can't use this info to build faster space ships, jetpacks or a better microwave. It might be useful in the future somehow, but right now this discovery means nothing in practical terms.

And that is fine. Because science isn't supposed to just be about finding stuff that can be industrialized, capitalized and prepackaged into a nice box at Walmart. Sometimes we do things just because we can, and want to discover new things.

But even then, look at the moon landing. We didn't really discover anything useful up there. Piles of rocks and sharp dust that tore up space suits. But on the way there, we created better rockets, space-age fabrics and lots of other things. Likewise, CERN has given us the World Wide Web, which I'm sure you appreciate, and a host of lesser inventions that I don't recall at the moment.

But most importantly, today another part of the cosmic puzzle fell into place. We're a little bit closer to understanding how the world works. That in itself is a huge achievement.
posted by ymgve at 2:26 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stephen Hawking expects he'll have to pay up.
posted by Twang at 2:43 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


ymgve: Oh, totally! I'm the first to be in agreement with the idea that investing in science and mathematics is intrinsically valuable, and almost always has unforseen applications in the future. It's just my instinct to giddily try and forsee what some of those applications might be. But yes, invest in STEM disciplines gosh darn it!
posted by lazaruslong at 3:13 PM on July 4, 2012


I did kind of a crap job articulating that. This post I made about Neil deGrasse Tyson's testimony to Congress is better I guess. He is so eloquent.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:15 PM on July 4, 2012


mondo dentro: I think we may be arguing over two separate things, and if we are, I apologize.

I am not trying to tell anyone to keep their mouth shut, I agree that the article is poorly written. My argument against setting up a straw man designer who is criticizing comic sans use for the sake of criticizing. Most of us have legitimate arguments that are being glossed over in the "Your fonts suck, lol" caricature.
posted by thebestsophist at 3:29 PM on July 4, 2012


Apparently there are hints that the Higgs as discovered at CERN isn't quite what we were expecting. Is it just that they haven't nailed down the mass yet, or is there something else pointing towards weirdness regarding the Standard Model?
posted by jiawen at 3:36 PM on July 4, 2012


Heh, in Twang's Hawking link:

"This is an important result and should earn Peter Higgs the Nobel Prize.

"But it is a pity in a way because the great advances in physics have come from experiments that gave results we didn't expect.

"For this reason I had a bet with Gordon Kane of Michigan University that the Higgs particle wouldn't be found. It seems I have just lost $100."


So he made the bet hoping that it wouldn't be discovered because unexpected results mean there's more to figure out. That's pretty awesome.

But like physicsmatt said in the other thread, and jiawen just indicated, I think the data isn't entirely in line with what was expected, so maybe it's the best of both worlds ("Hooray! Wait... huh?")
posted by palidor at 5:19 PM on July 4, 2012


physicsmatt: Have you had a chance yet to digest the data regarding the variations on a channel by channel basis? It's my understanding that they're seeing more evidence of the bosun in the channels where the decay is into two photons or into four leptons; so hypothetically, if the data continues to confirm these variations, what would be the significance of these variations?
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:17 PM on July 4, 2012


When will we defeat this molasses scourge? Scientists, get your science done, we need the war engineers to destroy this sticky syrup field!
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:03 PM on July 4, 2012


We did not fare so well in our last battle with molasses, TwelveTwo.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 1:43 AM on July 5, 2012


Mind your own fucking business.

God damnit, you go for a stroll around the block and suddenly there's a bunch of paparazzi making a huge deal about it.

In Comic Fucking Sans.

I should have destroyed this whole shit from the future when I had the chance.
posted by Higgs Boson at 3:50 AM on July 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Dr. Zira, I'm working on that right now (along with 40% of the field, I'd guess), so yes, I have thought about it. I have to go write that paper now, so stay tuned till tonight or tomorrow and I'll give you a more complete run-down.

Or you can read arxiv tonight, with any luck.
posted by physicsmatt at 7:57 AM on July 5, 2012


We did not fare so well in our last battle with molasses, TwelveTwo.

From the looks of it, it is no wonder we couldn't find the Higgs in that mess.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:01 AM on July 5, 2012


Speaking of comic, via popbitch's weekly email and with apologies to comedy and my fellow Mefite Higgs Boson (who, with a Metafilter join date of October 21, 2009 obviously wasn't that undiscovered)


Higgs Boson goes into a Catholic church.

The priest says, "You're not welcome here."

Higgs Boson argues, "But you can't have mass without me."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:24 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"boatswain", "bosun"
Actually the term "boson" isn't nautical but is in honor of Satyendra Bose, who with Einstein figured out how statistical mechanics is changed at low temperatures when the particles you're interested in can't be distinguished and, more subtly, are "symmetric." Similarly, "fermions" at low temperature follow the statistical rules derived by Fermi and Dirac for indistinguishable particles which are "antisymmetric." The essential difference between the two is that the probability for finding two antisymmetric particles in exactly the same state is always exactly zero --- that is, fermions obey the exclusion principle, and bosons don't. That's why electrons (fermions) stack up on top of each other in the orbitals that give us the periodic table, while the photons (bosons) in a laser all coherently occupy the same quantum state.

The connection between statistics and spin — the fact that all particles with integer spin obey Bose-Einstein statistics, and all particles with half-integer spin obey Fermi-Dirac statistics — is interesting but subtle. The only "popular"-level explanation that I've found is by Feynman.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:39 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Linux Played a Crucial Role in Discovery of 'Higgs boson'
posted by homunculus at 12:41 PM on July 5, 2012


It's no coincidence that Higgs Boson looks like a pile of dry spaghetti
posted by homunculus at 12:43 PM on July 5, 2012


i think we should just rename the font to COSMIC SANS
posted by lapolla at 3:40 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


They'll be celebrating on July 4 in a hundred years, you know. Not because of the U.S. independence day, and not because of the discovery of the Higgs boson. This day will go down in history as the day Comic Sans was rehabilitated and set on its path to becoming the Official World Font.
posted by palidor at 3:51 PM on July 5, 2012


....after careful thought: i am, simply, glad and relieved that they did not choose to use PAPYRUS.
posted by lapolla at 1:27 AM on July 6, 2012


The comic sans thing is a funny...

and

it was an amusing choice of font.

I see what the two of you did there.
posted by hippybear at 5:59 AM on July 6, 2012


In Focus has collected a bunch of photos of the "fantastic machine" (the LHC).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:04 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


BBC: Higgs boson results from LHC 'get even stronger'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:09 AM on August 1, 2012


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