Higgs Boson: Have We Really Found It?
How I feel about the Higgs Boson is kind of like asking me how I feel about my cat: I have too many feels. The Higgs Boson is literally the force which gives us meaning, and scientists are about 99.999% sure they have found it, but they aren’t celebrating just yet.
CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) announced yesterday that it will take additional analysis before it can declare the particle found last July as the elusive Higgs Boson. The news comes as CERN physicists offer their reports on over 2 trillion particle collisions conducted by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
The Higgs Boson is part of the Standard Model in quantum mechanics. Well, it isn’t just part of it, it is the part. The Standard Model is what scientists use to better understand the fundamental principals that govern our universe. The Higgs Boson is believed to be the reason why everything has mass. It is known as a force mediator, which means it can help to explain why some particles have mass and some do not (like neutrinos). It is often referred to as the "God Particle." It’s also the only part of the Standard Model we haven’t been able to see/witness/record ... yet. For now it is still a theoretical particle, and without it, the entire Standard Model falls apart.
CERN rests on the border between France and Switzerland. At CERN they operate the world's largest particle physics laboratory, most notably the Large Hadron Collider. It is the world's most powerful particle accelerator. Two high-energy particle beams are shot out into the accelerator at different points and are directed by superconducting electromagnets until they collide and make wonderful things occur. It is the ultimate proton smash.
Last year, CERN through the LHC found a boson and everyone was real excited about it. Scientists knew it was a boson due to its rate and manner of decay. Bosons decay into other particles almost immediately, which has been part of the reason why they have been so difficult to find.
The Higgs has to have a spin zero. If it doesn’t, it can’t be the Higgs. Spin refers to angular momentum of an object. The particle that was found last year is believed to be either a spin zero particle (making it almost assuredly the Higgs) or a spin two, which would make it something else entirely.
Scientists will be able to determine this based on the way in which the particle interacts with other particles as it decays. The scientists that run the experiments (known as ATLAS and CMS) are trying to narrow down the chance that it is anything but a Higgs Boson.
The Standard Model explains every part of our viewable universe. Proving that the Higgs Boson exists means we understand that much more about our universe. Mind you, it doesn't help to explain the 95% of the universe we can't see due to dark energy and dark matter. But locating the Higgs Boson is still a giant step forward for scientists and physicists.
Joe Incandela from CERN says it better than I ever could:
"This boson is a very profound thing that we have found. This is not like other ordinary particles. We are reaching into the fabric of the universe like we’ve never done before. It’s a key to the structure of the universe."
Currently, the LHC is closed down for repairs. The team is working on making it faster and stronger. When it comes back on-line in 2015, we can hope for new and exciting discoveries about the laws that dictate our universe. Yay.