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On occasion, that happens in physics. How can we test for the Higgs field?


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Winding its way hundreds of yards under Geneva, Switzerland, crossing the French border and back again, the LHC is a nearly mile-long circular tunnel that serves as a racetrack for smashing together particles of matter. The LHC is surrounded by about 9, superconducting magnets, and is home to streaming hordes of protons, cycling around the tunnel in both directions, which the magnets accelerate to just shy of the speed of light. At such speeds, the protons whip around the tunnel about 11, times each second, and when directed by the magnets, engage in millions of collisions in the blink of an eye.

The collisions, in turn, produce fireworks-like sprays of particles, which mammoth detectors capture and record. The math showed that if the idea is right, if we are really immersed in an ocean of Higgs field, then the violent particle collisions should be able to jiggle the field, much as two colliding submarines would jiggle the water around them. And every so often, the jiggling should be just right to flick off a speck of the field—a tiny droplet of the Higgs ocean—which would appear as the long-sought Higgs particle.

The calculations also showed that the Higgs particle would be unstable, disintegrating into other particles in a minuscule fraction of a second. In the early morning hours of July 4, , I gathered with about 20 other stalwarts in a conference room at the Aspen Center for Physics to view the live-stream of a press conference at the Large Hadron Collider facilities in Geneva.

About six months earlier, two independent teams of researchers charged with gathering and analyzing the LHC data had announced a strong indication that the Higgs particle had been found. The rumor now flying around the physics community was that the teams finally had sufficient evidence to stake a definitive claim. Coupled with the fact that Peter Higgs himself had been asked to make the trip to Geneva, there was ample motivation to stay up past 3 a.

And as the world came to quickly learn, the evidence that the Higgs particle had been detected was strong enough to cross the threshold of discovery. With the Higgs particle now officially found, the audience in Geneva broke out into wild applause, as did our little group in Aspen, and no doubt dozens of similar gatherings around the globe.

Peter Higgs wiped away a tear. Radio and television waves. Gravitational fields.


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  • But none of these is permanent. None is unchanging. None is uniformly present throughout the universe.

    Five Years After The Higgs, What Else Has The LHC Found?

    In this regard, the Higgs field is fundamentally different. We believe its value is the same on Earth as near Saturn, in the Orion Nebulae, throughout the Andromeda Galaxy and everywhere else. As far as we can tell, the Higgs field is indelibly imprinted on the spatial fabric. Second, the Higgs particle represents a new form of matter, which had been widely anticipated for decades but had never been seen. Early in the 20th century, physicists realized that particles, in addition to their mass and electric charge, have a third defining feature: their spin.

    Electrons and quarks all have the same spin value, while the spin of photons—particles of light—is twice that of electrons and quarks.

    The equations describing the Higgs particle showed that—unlike any other fundamental particle species—it should have no spin at all. Data from the Large Hadron Collider have now confirmed this. Establishing the existence of a new form of matter is a rare achievement, but the result has resonance in another field: cosmology, the scientific study of how the entire universe began and developed into the form we now witness.

    For many years, cosmologists studying the Big Bang theory were stymied. They had pieced together a robust description of how the universe evolved from a split second after the beginning, but they were unable to give any insight into what drove space to start expanding in the first place. What force could have exerted such a powerful outward push?

    For all its success, the Big Bang theory left out the bang.

    In this section

    In the s, a possible solution was discovered, one that rings a loud Higgsian bell. Calculations showed that it was difficult to realize this idea with the Higgs field itself; the double duty of providing particle masses and fueling the bang proves a substantial burden. Because of this, for more than 30 years, theoretical physicists have been vigorously exploring cosmological theories in which such Higgs-like fields play an essential part. Thousands of journal articles have been written developing these ideas, and billions of dollars have been spent on deep space observations seeking—and finding—indirect evidence that these theories accurately describe our universe.

    The possibility of black holes emerged from the mathematical analyses of German physicist Karl Schwarzchild; subsequent observations proved that black holes are real. The concept of anti-matter first emerged from the mathematical analyses of quantum physicist Paul Dirac; subsequent experiments showed that this idea, too, is right. And once again the math has come through with flying colors. Our work is driven by mathematics, and has so far not made contact with experimental data.

    More exciting still would be the discovery of something completely unanticipated, sending us all scurrying back to our blackboards. Many of us have been trying to scale these mathematical mountains for 30 years, some even longer. It is a great boost for our generation to witness the confirmation of the Higgs, to witness four-decade-old mathematical insights realized as pops and crackles in the LHC detectors.

    It is always hard to realize that these numbers and equations we play with at our desks have something to do with the real world. When they do, we get that much closer to grasping our place in the cosmos. Continue or Give a Gift. Privacy Policy , Terms of Use Sign up. SmartNews History. History Archaeology. World History.

    An Introduction to the Large Hadron Collider and the importance of the Higgs BOSON

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    It’s Intermission for the Large Hadron Collider

    Earth Optimism Summit. Ingenuity Ingenuity Festival. The Innovative Spirit. Travel Taiwan. American South. Travel With Us. At the Smithsonian Visit. New Research. The CERN event generated global media coverage and huge public interest and has enormous implications for our understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe.

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    One of the goals of the LHC is to understand the Higgs boson, and the first step was to confirm or rule out its existence. The LHC started up in , and remained in operation until February After running continuously for three years, the LHC is undergoing essential maintenance, and being upgraded, and is scheduled to come online again early in The Higgs boson is a type of elementary, sub-atomic particle. Sub-atomic particles are divided into two categories: bosons and fermions. Generally speaking, bosons are force-carrying particles while fermions are associated with matter. The Higgs boson is named after Professor Peter Higgs, a theoretical physicist at the University of Edinburgh, who predicted its existence.

    With the exception of neutrino physics, results from other particle physics experiments match the Standard Model extremely well - but only if one missing piece, the Higgs boson, is assumed to exist.