Higgs Boson found?

June 21, 2012 • 11:22 am

This is apparently a rumor, but one probably leaked by physicists involved in the project.  As Wired Science reports, there are tantalizing hints that the elusive Higgs Boson has finally been found via the Large Hadron Collider at the Franco-Swiss border:

Ever since tantalizing hints of the Higgs turned up in December at the Large Hadron Collider, scientists there have been busily analyzing the results of their energetic particle collisions to further refine their search.

“The bottom line though is now clear: There’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look,” wrote mathematician Peter Woit on his blog, Not Even Wrong. According to Woit, there are rumors of new data that would be the most compelling evidence yet for the long-sought Higgs.

The possible news has a number of physics bloggers speculating that LHC scientists will announce the discovery of the Higgs during the International Conference on High Energy Physics, which takes place in Melbourne, Australia, July 4 to 11.

The new buzz is just the latest in the Higgs search drama. In December, rumors circulated regarding hints of the Higgs around 125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), roughly 125 times the mass of a proton. While those rumors eventually turned out to be true, the hard data only amounted to what scientists call a 3-sigma signal, meaning that there is a 0.13 percent probability that the events happened by chance. This is the level at which particle physicists will only say they have “evidence” for a particle.

In the rigorous world of high-energy physics, researchers wait to see a 5-sigma signal, which has only a 0.000028 percent probability of happening by chance, before claiming a “discovery.”

The latest Higgs rumors suggest nearly-there 4-sigma signals are turning up at both of the two separate LHC experiments that are hunting for the particle. As physicist Philip Gibbs points out on his blog, Vixra log, if each experiment is seeing a 4-sigma signal, then this is almost definitely the long-sought particle. Combining the two 4-sigma results should be enough to clear that 5-sigma hurdle.

You might know that the Higgs boson is the final remaining particle predicted by the famous “standard model” of particle physics.  It was predicted by six physicists, and the paper announcing its discovery (if it turns out to be real) will undoubtedly have elebenty gazillion authors.  So who gets the Nobel Prize, which is limited to three people in any given year?

Regardless, if this turns out to be real it’s one of the greatest triumphs of that mass of gray jelly we call our mind. Out of the bowels of the earth and the vapors of the sky, we wrested materials to build a big honking machine so that we could find one of the smallest bits of matter (granted, it’s bigger than a proton).  It cost over 4 billion dollars, but I think it’s well worth it.

If this turns out to be real, you read it here first. If not, excuse me. *Rushes to ask Sean Carroll*

UPDATE: Sean responded promptly to my query about whether he thought this was real. His response, quoted with permission, was noncommittal.

I think they might have, or maybe not, but in any event we should findout quite soon. Several thousand people have been busting their butts to make this happen for years now, and honestly I’d rather let them announce it in their own way rather than pass rumors around.  But I certainly understand why people are excited — if they do have it, it’s big news.

But he did add that he is writing a book on the whole matter, The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World which will be out next January. He’ll have to do some rewriting, I suspect.

I doubt that it looks like this

73 thoughts on “Higgs Boson found?

  1. My holy book postdicted the Higgs Boson, continuing it’s unbroken record of successful postdictions such as; the earth is sphere, the earth floats in space, matter is made of teeny-tiny particles, germ theory, there are mountains at the bottom of the oceans, light is refrangible (but only after the flood), DNA, the oceans have different currents at different depths.

    Checkmate atheists !

  2. I was at a talk this afternoon by my colleague Brian Cox, who as well as being an ace science communicator (he was infuriatingly brilliant today), works on quantum physics at CERN. He said we should expect some interesting news in July… He wouldn’t say anything more.

    1. he was infuriatingly brilliant today

      He’d have to be, given the lady he’s married to (just looked up his homepage; knew him only from papers and TED talks previously).

  3. If they are going to dish out Nobels then the had better hurry. Peter Higgs is no spring chicken and it would be bizarre if they didn’t give one to him!

    1. The various Nobel committees are no strangers to bizarre decisions: often denying them to co-authors on Nobel-winning discoveries for unclear reasons. Physicist George Sudarshan, for example, seems to have been a victim of this at least twice. Perhaps the saddest such story is that of Douglas Prasher who was passed over for a Nobel prize in 2008 when even the winners thought that Prasher’s contribution was equivalent to theirs, and at a time when he had been forced to leave science and work as a taxi driver. There is of course also the well known case of Rosalind Franklin.

      Then there is the Peace Prize, which has more or less become a laughing stock (No Gandhi, but Obama and Yasser Arafat, and Henery Kissenger). It seems the best way to get a Peace prize is to first start a big war, and then after enough people have been killed, to agree to stop it (proof of repentance or admission of guilt not required).

      1. Sudarshan is a shameless self-promoter, and he likes to circulate the story that he’s been unfairly passed over for the Nobel Prize. But when he’s discussed among physicists, it’s practically universally acknowledged that he did not do work worthy of a Nobel Prize. (I’ve only heard from one physicist who said he believed that Sudarshan really did deserve the prize.) This is quite natural, since his two discoveries were: the left-handed nature of the weak interaction, which was suggested by a whole slew of people in a fairly short period of time; and the theory of coherent states in quantum optics, *which he got wrong*!

        As to who will get the prize for the Higgs boson, I predict that after the Higgs is confirmed, they will not award a Nobel prize in physics that year. The prize will be reserved for a year, and two years of prizes will be handed out simultaneously to all six people. Something similar was done in 1932-1933, when the pioneers of quantum mechanics were honored.

        1. and the theory of coherent states in quantum optics, *which he got wrong*!

          Citation needed. I am no expert on Quantum optics, so it will probably take me at least a couple of days to read the two 1963 PRL papers by Glauber and Sudarshan. Even Glauber’s citation credits Sudarshan’s paper for developing on the same theme, and then for further developing the formalism mathematically in future papers, after a quibble about publication dates.

          At least in my primary field, when a reasonable big discovery is made by two independent workers who are separated only by a few months, both are credited as discoverers, and at least from my perspective, this method of apportioning credit seems rather weird. In this case, even the issue of primacy seems to be not so clear.

          You might not like Sudarshan’s letter writing campaigns (I personally don’t either). But the discussion should probably be about whether his work merited the prize to a similar extent as Glauber.

      2. Franklin couldn’t get it for the worst possible reason, of course. She was dead. However another shameful omission was Fred Hoyle for nucleosynthesis

  4. What rich irony in Sean’s comment. Here the media and the Republicans talk in this absolute language when it comes to science, yet if you (they) actually READ the studies or the reports, or ask the scientists, they will be ridiculously measured in what they say or conclude.

    This is a lesson that needs to be said to the public. No sorry, shouted to the public.

    1. LOL “Even worse, they blaspheme in referring to ‘God’ as an atomic particle. Unfortunately for them, God will have the last word, for He says: ‘… I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent’ (1 Corinthians 1:19)”

      Word to the wise, lay off the Higgs (beer)

      Boson De Higgs This is a link to a page on this website.

    2. Oddly enough, both conservative Christians AND some atheists have issues with the quasi-religious language used by some physicists. Atheist David Eller dislikes the term “God particle” just as much, and Dawkins doesn’t like Einstein’s religious language any more than these guys.

      1. It’s not really odd at all. Both conservative Xtians and a lot of atheists recognize that religion and science are incompatible and using religious terminology in scientific description makes that fact less clear.

  5. Oh boy! Exciting! It must be hard to hold it in when you are part of a discovery like this. If there has actually been a discovery of course.

    Can I have my flying car and fusion powered spaceship now? Please?

  6. Someone should make a “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Boson” song based on “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother” They could play it at the announcement.

    It was certainly a long road:

  7. After a season of ill health and close calls, I told my Significant Other that I was hoping for two things before kicking the bucket:
    1. a confirmation of the Higgs boson;
    2. getting our kitchen steamer to work
    (and I wasn’t holding my breath for the steamer).

    If a Higgs particle in the 125 GeV/c^2 mass range is confirmed, I’ll sponsor a pocket Nobel for properly steamed vegetables, and expire contented.

    1. The exciting thing with a 125 GeV standard Higgs, if that is what it is, is that the vacuum is most likely quasistable.

      With a vacuum (= universe) lifetime of ~ 10^100 years, it is a nice anthropic prediction joining the cosmological constant and a few others. Not too short to have life, not too long to need specific stabilization mechanisms kludging down the physics – it just is.

      Not nice for god botherers, but nice for eventual multiverse theories. And you got to love the take-it-or-leave-it non-creationist spirit of those! =D

  8. Sigh! Yes, it is a rumor by Woit, which I saw first on “Of Particular Significance” by the way. He has carefully worded it as if something new is going on instead of the ~ 4 sigma signals expected. Then not until the end of the year will we, hopefully, see a real 5 sigma signal independently duplicated on both detectors if his rumor = business-as-expected is correct.

    The reason that they get back to the same 3-4 sigma not-signals is because they started all over to minimize the look-elsewhere-effect. It comes from the large chance of spurious data looking like signals when you look over a large energy range. They decided, wisely, to use last yéras data to start over in the last two narrow energy windows, ~ 115-130 GeV and 600-800 GeV IIRC.

    So perhaps we can see a Higgs detection at years end and break out the champagne. Then there will be a close down to ramp up energy (train the superconducting magnets for high field strengths), and within two years or so they can manage to test whether it is a _standard_ Higgs, or something else. And break out the champagne for Higgs’ Nobel Prize.

    1. Of course, it _is_ nice with the recurring peak. It is just the inflation of importance that Woit does that gets my goat.

        1. I can’t claim to have invented this. If you are old enough you may remember Firesign Theatre. The source of a great many humorous moments in my youth.

            1. Oh, now you’re really testing my memory. I’m going to go with We’re All Bozos On This Bus. But with doing the requisite googling, I can’t be sure.

              1. I guess I only had (and have on CD) their first 4 albums. I think most of their stuff went straight to the cut-out bin. Maybe it’s time for an amazon order if any of that is still available.

                I will add that I have cited, in context, Fudd’s First Law of Opposition, and “In the beginning, there was this turtle…”, on science/atheism sites and never gotten a glimmer of recognition from anyone.

              2. They had a lot of good science references in their material and you had to pay attention or a lot of it would just fly past.

                On a grim note, it was sad to see Peter Bergman die earlier this year.

              3. Sysly. Smart, well-read, and hilariously witty bunch of guys. Peter Bergman’s passing was mourned amongst my friends.

                And another science joke that gets blank stares, from WC Fields Forever on Waiting for the Electrician:

                Look! The sun is going down.

                No, no. The horizon’s moving up.

            2. Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers

              Still my favorite.

              Took ages to track it down after I lost the vinyl version.

        2. Check out ‘The Road to Mars’ – a comedy sci-fi novel by Eric Idle. It features a robot named Carlton who is obsessed with analyzing the human concept of “funny”. His final doctoral thesis on the matter posits a primary force called “levity” – the equal and opposite of “gravity.”

        3. The opposite of “gravity” is not “comedy” but “levity” … as satirical cartoonists in Newton’s day knew well.


            1. 😉

              Sadly, I cannot find the cartoon I have in mind online. I have it in a book, but I’m pretty sure it’s in storage in the loft… Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man?


      1. I like the story of the serious judge who was made a Lord, but didn’t think his joking brother judge would: “While I rise because of my gravity, he will be kept down by his levity.”

  9. So who gets the Nobel Prize, which is limited to three people in any given year?

    The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, quite obviously.


  10. What is amazing to me is that, among the lay public, there are some people who are quite willing to accept the reality of the Higgs particle, which is virtually a mathematical abstraction, but will deny evolution and all of its far more concrete evidence.

  11. You might know that the Higgs boson is the final remaining particle predicted by the famous “standard model” of particle physics.

    It can’t be the final particle… what about the Higgs boson’s mate?

    Wait… what? Oh, my bad.

  12. I read and enjoy both Cosmic Variance and Why Evolution Is True pretty much every day. I am definitely going to leave some comments for Sean Carroll asking why I read about this first at WEIT.

  13. I do hope they confirm the existence of the Higgs soon. It would help to explain the extra 10 pounds I’ve accumulated since the arrival of my new recliner.

  14. Just to correct the interpretation of 3 sigma in the quoted passage.

    In fact 0.0013% is the chance of observing what they did if the null hypothesis is true. Presumably the null hypothesis is that there is no Higgs, so that the apparent presence of Higgs is just chance random variation.

    The quotation implies that 0.0013% is the chance that what they observed was just random variation, i.e. that it is the probability that the null hypothesis is true.

    This is not at all the same thing, and equating these two probabilities is sometimes call The Prosecutor’s Fallacy.

    In other words it is

    P( Observe This given No Higgs ) = 0.0013%

    and NOT

    P( No Higgs given Observe This ) = 0.0013%

    1. I thought the article was clear on P( Observe This given No Higgs ) = 0.0013%.

      If the article had meant P( No Higgs given Observe This ) = 0.0013% it would have said something like “there is a 0.13 percent probability that observation was a false positive” instead of “there is a 0.13 percent probability that the events happened by chance”.

      1. Well, maybe I’m being hyper-critical, largely because I’ve seen rather too many cases recently of people misinterpreting tail probabilities, including in stuff about the Higgs. I agree its not the worst non-technical way of saying it.

        My concern is that because if there is no Higgs then it happened purely by chance, so “it happened by chance” is easily interpreted as meaning “there is no Higgs”. Hence P(happened by chance) = 0.0013% could be interpreted as P(no Higgs) = 0.0013%.

        It is important to emphasize that the probability is based on the assumption that the null hypothesis (no Higgs) is true. Its the probability of it happening by chance only under the assumption that the null hypothesis is true.

        More precisely, 0.0013% is the probability of observing what was observed, or something even more unlikely if there is no Higgs, under the assumption that there is no Higgs.

        (This is all assuming its standard tail-probability stuff, and that the null hypothesis is No Higgs, which may be an oversimplification).

  15. I know a cure for Henri’s depressive state: proclaim him to be an avatar of the Higgs boson. He would resonate with strength and joy.

    But wait! What if I’m wrong? What if it’s one of my own cats that’s actually an avatar of the H.b.? What if Cuddles in her incessant nagging for treatz, more treatz, is actually doing nothing more than typifying a Feynman diagram of Higgs boson formation?

    Here, Henri! We have a treat for you! Kitty, kitty, kitty! Nice Henri.

  16. The streets are impassable tonight, the country is rising and the cry goes up from hill to hill — Where — is — Higgs?
    (Small pause.)
    Perhaps he’s dead at last, or trapped in a lift somewhere, or succumbed to amnesia, wandering the land with his turn-ups stuffed with ticket-stubs.

    Tom Stoppard, The Real Inspector Hound


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