Does this mean that regular physics in today's textbooks is complete? And that the Standard Model of Physics, the framers of which say they know it's somehow contradictory, ie wrong way down deep and in need of new physics, is now fully buttoned up, waxed and polished for its gold watch ceremony and see ya later we gotta newbie on the job? Congratulations in any case to the operators of the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN lab. The billions of euros spent on it, and the bail-out employment it offered for US physicists - orphaned by failure here to stay in the high energy particle physics big leagues - are vindicated. Quick, what did the initials SSC stand for? Why are there abandoned tunnels near Waxahachie, Texas where, some time ago, this discovery could likely have occurred?
We already posted two days ago on the run of advance stories reporting confidently what the vast teams of scientists working with the LHC's two big detectors, each wrapped around a collision chamber where protons and anti-protons scream into one another, are pretty sure they have found: The Higgs Boson, Creator of Mass. The particle that theorists and experimenters were quite sure should momentarily stand distinct from its pervasive alter ego, the Higgs field, appears to have done just that in teeny fireballs with sufficient energy and W and Z vector bosons (don't ask me more, read this 2007 Cosmic Variance primer on the hard stuff) squirming about in close quarters .
Congratulations are also due the reporters who got the gist of it right and ahead of the official word, thanks in part to the eagerly wagging tongues of physicists privy to their trade's private chatter. Kudos included for the Daily Mail in the UK. This is a tabloid that until fairly recently and except for its super pictures was mostly good for science presented as either horror story or comic relief . In recent months I've noticed it getting steady, sober reporting from its staffer Rob Waugh. And on Sunday its writer (as tracked on Tuesday) Rob Cooper reported that smoke signals heralded an announcement featuring an emphatic yes.
One wonders how the Nobel people will handle it. Zippity zillions of physicists did the experimental work that seems to confirm the thing (and with a mass about what US physicists, in a final hurrah for the Tevatron at Fermilab, said the other day that it ought have but that their last tests' data could not quite offer with sufficient-sigma probability for a ta-DA!). Several coordinated the effort at CERN to nail it down, including the directors of the Atlas and CMS detectors. At a guess, one suspects the prophet of this boson and the field it embodies, Peter Higgs and he's Sir Peter already, of Edinburgh U. will get a solo trip to Stockholm. But then again, even when it was all theory he was not the only one charting the same essential possibilities. We shall just have to see.
Big show yesterday in Geneva. Stories:
- Daily Mail - Rob Waugh, Fiona MacRae : Professor Higgs wipes a tear from his eye as fellow scientists find his 'God particle' on 'momentous day for science' - 40 years after he predicted its existence ; Perhaps is too certain in tone, at top, that this is it. Deeper one reads that ambiguity remains but few experts would bet against the Higgs.
- NYTimes - Dennis Overbye: Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe ; One wonders how long he debated the Omar Sharif analogy, not one most people have on instant reserve in their memory. It works pretty well. Overbye filed from a conference in Aspen. This, like many other stories, still has some wiggle to it. They got a resonance in energy at the right place. "It may be an imposter yet unknown to physics" Overbye writes.
- AP - John Heilprin: Eureka! Physicists celebrate evidence of particle. Also Frank Jordans: A closer look at the Higgs boson ;
- Reuters - Chris Wickham, Robert Evans: "It's a boson:" Higgs quest bears new particle ;
- AFP - Higgs Boson Gateway to New Vision of Universe ;
- Voice of America - Kane Farabaugh: Higgs Boson Finding Excites Fermilab Scientists ; Just gotta list, high-up, a report on how close the out-gunned Yanks were. Most of'em now work parttime at CERN too so it's not all green-eyed envy. They were in the game all the way on both sides of the field.
- The Economist: Gotcha! The hunt for physics's most elusive quarry is over ; The unnamed writer has the presence of mind to list, high in his story, the other theorists who first helped sketch out what we now call the Higgs. This story is a serious, plain-but-sophisticated language walk-through of the history and physics behind yesterday's news. Many readers will get lost. Those who don't will be gratified by its info. As it says, the discovery of the boson is "the crowning achievement of one of history's most successful scientific theories" but is also "almost certainly the beginning of that theory's undoing."
- *UPDATE: Washington Post - Brian Vastag, Joel Achenbach (Late addition to today's track): Scientists' search for Higgs boson yields new subatomic particle ; The hed's a wee bit too coy, but 2d graf says they found it "or something remarkably Higgs-like..." and goes straight to a quote from the real Mr. Higgs, Sir Peter. An accompanying gallery has a slew of sharp photos of very large equipment made with a precision of a $10,ooo Swiss watch - or beyond.
- Guardian (UK) Ian Sample: Higgs boson: It's unofficial! Cern scientists discover missing particle ; Guardian has quite a package, linked in a column down the side of this sample also by Sample: Higgs boson discovery: now the real work begins; I count eight stories plus a video in the set.
- Telegraph - Ceri Perkins, Nick Collins: Scientists 99.999% sure "God Particle' has been found ; Leader of another large package. Most interesting, for its originality, is by Robert Colville - The shabby, dingy beauty of the Higgs boson-hunters' lair/ There's something reassuringsly low-rent about the Large Hadron Collider's home ;
- Los Angeles Times - Eryn Brown: With Higgs boson research, Large Hadron Collider is a big hit ; Vindication for all the money poured into the ground.
- Science News - Alexandra Witze: Higgs found/ Last particle in physics' standard model falls into place ; Fine job, as one expects of Alex. But look at the hed, and check the one a few up above, from the Economist. Is it physics's, or physics' quarry that has turned up? I vote for the former, as physics is a singular, but perhaps the style books quarrel.
- Sydney Morning Herald - Deborah Smith: In that other big hit-up, science finds Higgs boson; I d'know what the other hit-up might be. Smith harvests a lot of her quotes from the Geneva teleconference but of course has to mention that, formally, the announcement was in Melbourne at the International Conference on High Energy Physics - electronically hooked up to the gathering of physics nobility in Geneva. Also see the paper's roundup of related news, A Higgs boson walks into a church... '
- Inside Science News Service - Virat Markandeya: Signature resembles long-sought 'Higgs boson' ; No hyperventilation, but plenty of calm explanation. Also recognizes where, formally, these results were announced. Uses the word "tranche," one I can recall seeing only in finance news.
- Time Magazine - Jeffrey Kluger: Fireworks for the Physicists ; The lede pokes fun at how physicists talk. That's okay - it is sometimes arcane. The piece gains footing as it goes. However, am unsure that "In the wild ... Higgs bosons would swarm around other elementary particles and confer [on?] them mass." On a Feynman diagram the bosons exist as discrete things. But do they swarm, or is the Higgs field more like a fluid, dispersed thing when physicists imagine it? I just don't know.
- *UPDATE: Life'sLittle Mysteries - Natalie Wolchover: What If the New Particle Isn't the Higgs Boson? : Sort of helps one through the particle-field confusion I express one jot up. It has a swimming pool of the field, and one splash is the particle. Uh huh. The site is partof the stable that includes LiveScience.
- *UPDATE - Calcutta Telegraph - G. S. Mudur: It walks, it quacks but best to ... check if it's God's duck ; Ganapati Mudur, one of India's best known science journalists, gives the Higgs a sober look and reports that he rather likes the hed that editors put on it (it had to be catchy, for the story didn't his the streets on paper till 18 hours after TV already shared the news).
- San Francisco Chronicle - David Perlman: Physicists believe they found key Higgs boson ; Once again Perlman finds the local angle - in an age of "all local all the time" metro reporting rules - in a global story. Of course, Berkeley and Stanford are full of physicists racking up frequent flyer miles to CERN and back. Perlman also deftly gets in some physics including the possibility this is something else entirely or, alternatively, it is the first of several Higgs out there.
One could go on all day, and apologies to writers and editors of sterling accounts not noted. But in case ou are finding yourself bewildered by what exactly this news is all about, here is just one more...
- The Atlantic - Robert Wright: What This Higgs Boson Thing Really Means ; Wright is of course a science writer of impeccable credentials (Three Scientists and their Gods, The Evolution of God, and other works that just happen to not bear on the so-called God Particle). This article does say a few useful things about the particle-field (or particle-wave) duality of nature but then pivots and ask what the hell does such language mean. He writes at one point, "In sum, I personally continue to have no idea what the Higgs boson is."
And thus, onward ye physicists to extra dimensions and to the greatest of remaining known unknowns: dark energy and dark matter.
Grist for the Mill: CERN Press Release ;
- Charlie Petit