Higgs boson found! (probably)

I’m off early to Canada, and what good news to awaken to!

As everyone expected from rumors leaking out over the past few weeks, it was announced yesterday at a physics conference in Melbourne that a particle consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson was found by two groups using the Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border. The results are characterized as “preliminary”, but I’m betting and hoping they’re right.  This is the last particle predicted by the Standard Model of physics, and its discovery is a true triumph of the human intellect. Not that we’re created by God or anything, but squirrels couldn’t have found this!

The CERN press release says this, and we should be proud as scientists that it’s properly cautious:

Geneva, 4 July 2012. At a seminar held at CERN1 today as a curtain raiser to the year’s major particle physics conference, ICHEP2012 in Melbourne, the ATLAS and CMS experiments presented their latest preliminary results in the search for the long sought Higgs particle. Both experiments observe a new particle in the mass region around 125-126 GeV.

“We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The outstanding performance of the LHC and ATLAS and the huge efforts of many people have brought us to this exciting stage,” said ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, “but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication.”

“The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found,” said CMS experiment spokesperson Joe Incandela. “The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this reason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks.”

(See more at the press release.)

As the BBC reports,  Peter Higgsg himself was on hand to hear the vindication of his prediction. How satisfying that must be!:

At the meeting, Prof Peter Higgs, the former University of Edinburgh theoretician who with five others predicted the Higgs particle’s existence in 1964, praised the efforts of the LHC teams.

“It’s really an incredible thing its happened in my lifetime,” he said. . .

Prof Stefan Soldner-Rembold, from the University of Manchester, told BBC News earlier this week: “The evidence is piling up… everything points in the direction that the Higgs is there.”

The Higgs is the cornerstone of the Standard Model – the most successful theory to explain the workings of the Universe.

But most researchers now regard the Standard Model as a stepping stone to some other, more complete theory, which can explain phenomena such as dark matter and dark energy.

Scientists will look at how the new particle decays -or transforms – into other, more stable particles after being produced in collisions at the LHC to figure out whether the particle they see is the version of the Higgs predicted by the Standard Model or something more exotic. .

“We’ll look at how often it decays into a pair of photons, how often it decays into Z bosons, how often it decays into W bosons,” said Dr Tara Shears, from the University of Liverpool.

“It could match what the Standard Model predicts, but if there are deviations, that means there is new physics at work. That would be the first glimpse through the window at what lies beyond our current understanding.”

The New York Times now has a long article about it, including this paragraph and these photos:

At CERN itself, 1,000 people stood in line all night to get into the auditorium, according to Guido Tonelli, a CERN physicist who said the atmosphere was like a rock concert. Peter Higgs, the University of Edinburgh theorist for whom the boson is named, entered the meeting to a standing ovation.

Joe Incandela, a CERN spokesman, right, gestured next to Rolf-Dieter Heuer, CERN’s director general, during a press conference at the organization’s offices near Geneva on Wednesday. Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The British physicist Peter Higgs arrived at CERN’s headquarters on Wednesday. Pool photo by Dennis Baliebouse.


  1. J
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    The exciting times are definitely still to come as we try to pin down its properties – it would be very disappointing & perplexing if this new particle was all there was left! Both experiments saw an excess in one particular decay mode of the particle, though compatible with what the Standard Model predicts so too early to get excited about that particular channel, interesting though 🙂

  2. DoomedAhab
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    I watched the live webcast @ Cern. Absolutely awesome! To see Prof. Higgs mist over… Chills down my spine.

  3. Dominic
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    I wonder if there are any predictions from 2012 that will be bing confirmed in 48 years time! Or if there will just be a smoking ruin…

    • Dominic
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

      ‘be being’… sorry

    • TJR
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

      My prediction for 48 years time:

      England still won’t have won the World Cup again.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Will “England” still exist (probability 75%)?
        Will the “World Cup” (for soccer) still exist (P~=75%, I guess) and will it refer to the world outside the AdvertisingSpeak world (P~=50%)?
        what is this concept “won?” Is it some sort of slightly randomised meaning of “achieved the maximum plausible count of eyeball-seconds for the adverts which fund the “sport” display.
        In Scottish news … I wonder if “Rangers” will recur, or if their iBrox ground will be brought by iApple as an iAdvert for iAnything? Or am I just being iCynical?

    • peter
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      The (MIT still?) physicist Max Tegmark conjectures that physical existence is identical with mathematical existence and that ‘all’ mathematical systems exist ‘physically’. Though this sounds like science fantasy, he claims to give experimental tests which could invalidate this (and so far do not, of course, as of the last thing of his I’ve read). This would be a “TOE”, but of course does not address which of those systems us guys live in, nor give any systems where his “self aware systems” could exist. Will there be evidence enough to discard this conjecture (or failed vigorous attempts, thereby inclining us to believe it) in 48 years?

  4. Posted July 4, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    The live blog of the presentation is a fascinating read over at Cosmic Variance

  5. Posted July 4, 2012 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Higgs is an atheist, and is displeased that the Higgs particle is nicknamed the “God particle”,because the term “might offend people who are religious”.Usually this inappropriate nickname for the Higgs boson is attributed to Leon Lederman, the author of the book, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What is the Question?, but the name is the result of the insistence of Lederman’s publisher: originally, Lederman had intended to refer to it as the “goddamn particle.” (Wikipedia)

    • Filippo
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      What is it with the BBC, managing not to caterwaul “God Particle,” as NPR does? (sarcasm)

      Are they sure it’s not the Zeus, or Wotan, or Mithras Particle?

      Leave it to some bread & circuses-oriented publishing tyrant to impose such a book title, and to impose on Lederman to have to continuously explain its provenance.

    • Posted July 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I did some fact checking on this for anticipated debates with morons and the “Goddamn Particle” title rumor is sort of half true. This is the actual source of the rumor from Chapter 2 of “The God Particle”.

      “This boson is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final
      understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive, that I have given it a nickname:
      the God Particle. Why God Particle? Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn’t let us call
      it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its
      villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to
      another book, a much older one … ” Source

      Lederman then goes on to an analogy with Genesis 11:1-9, the Tower of Babel story. So, it seems like it was more of a tongue-in-cheek statement rather than an actual decision by the publisher.

      I might have to pick up that book though, it wasn’t a bad read from the Chapter 2 excerpt. It made me want a Standard Model T-Shirt 🙂

  6. Spirula
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    squirrels couldn’t have found this

    We DID find it. We just can’t remember where we buried it.

    A. Squrl

    • Notagod
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      That is impressive! Is everyone sure that it wasn’t mistakenly eated in the rush to placate belly growler?

    • gravelinspector
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      You can’t remember where you buried it because we ate the Squrl who buried it.
      (sgd) A.Cat (spitting fluffy fur)

  7. Duncan
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    “…but squirrels couldn’t have found this!”

    Shame on you Jerry for not recognizing the exciting and important work being carried out at the LHC (Large Hazelnut Collider). Squirrel scientists are accelerating large hazelnuts towards equally large hazelnuts at speeds in excess of 30mph in an effort to produce smaller and smaller pieces of nut. At least they would be if they could stop eating the nuts.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      Okay, you’ve won the thread already, even at the beginning! 🙂

      • Duncan
        Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        Quick, close the comments!

      • gravelinspector
        Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink


    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      Who’s shelling out for that?


    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      It is a little know facts outside the woods, but in squirrel physics the hydrogen atom consists of a kernel of corn neutralized with a grain of salt.

  8. Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on After his Image and commented:
    The standard model of physics is now complete with the discovery of the Higgs Boson. Is there more underneath? And will God have to retreat further into his ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance?

  9. Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Sadly, none of the graphs look like those in my Ph.D. thesis. Maybe when we’ve seen more events…


    • darrelle
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Sadly? Rejoice! Getting it right would be boring. When you are wrong though, that’s when it gets really exciting!

      • Posted July 5, 2012 at 12:06 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure Peter Higgs would agree…


    • gbjames
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink


  10. JoeBuddha
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink


    As a long-time Lensmen aficionado, I’m now awaiting the invention of the inertialess drive…

    • gravelinspector
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      Hang on, there will be one along in a minute.
      Ah … but without inertia, there’s no “on” to hang “to”.
      Ummm …

  11. rodgerma
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    I take it as a confirmation that science rocks. Yet another “unbelievable” achievement accomplished 8)
    Happy July 4th!

  12. dunstar
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    damnit i wish i was a physicist! lol

    • jiten
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      I too sometimes wish that. They are the only people in the universe who will ever understand how the universe works because the maths they use is beyond the capabilities of both lay people and scientists in other fields. Reading about it in words is not the same and cannot hope to really get to the way the universe is.

      • SJR
        Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        If a mathematical concept cannot be expressed in words, then NOBODY really understands. Math is what physicist try to hid behind when they really DON’T understand. If what I’m sayin is no true, then no one could ever teach or be taught mathematical concepts.

  13. darrelle
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    “Still can’t be sure that it’s just the vanilla Standard Model Higgs. The discrepancies aren’t quite strong enough to be sure that they really represent beyond-Standard-Model physics… but it’s a strong possibility.

    [Sean Carroll, Live-Blogging the Higgs Seminar, Cosmic Variance]

    This is the most exciting thing, to me, about this discovery.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      To expand on that, here are relevant comments by Sean Carroll.

      “Crucial: the bump being seen is larger than expected! By a factor of two, approximately. Huge news. There isn’t a parameter in the Standard Model that you can tweak to explain that. It’s either a cruel fluctuation, or new physics.” (Regarding the two photon channel results from the Atlas detector. Should note that the error on the magnitude of the bump is large.)

      “And … no sign of a Higgs in that channel! Very small significance, but potentially a very intriguing result. Could mean that we have something Higgs-like, but not precisely the Standard Model Higgs.” (regarding the tau lepton and anti-tau channel results from the CMS detector)

  14. CJ
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    “I’m off early to Canada…”

    It’s a great time to be in Ottawa. Not only are we hosting the First Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology, Ottawa’s Bluesfest is on as well. Only 3km’s apart!

    • gravelinspector
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure JAC will appreciate his 20-hour day becoming a 26-hour day.
      No, srsly! [G]

  15. Stephen Barnard
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    This just in: In a stunning experiment, ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus) has uncovered statistically significant evidence (4 sigma) that the Higgs particle has free will.


    • John Scarborough
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Droll. Very droll.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Hippity Higgs, Hurrah!

    The minor channels have rickety data. I think Carroll is on a fishing expedition.

    He doesn’t need to be.

    If it is a standard Higgs with 125-126 GeV mass, it suggests new physics right away!

    Several analyses concludes that such a Higgs makes a quasistable vacuum at ~ 3 sigma. Improving on Higgs results would be informative here.

    More than that, the latest update I have seen found that the Higgs field parameters conspires to get there, suggesting criticality of a dynamical system. The authors suggest multiverses.

    At the same time it favors supersymmetry at a low energy. (Also noteworthy is that they find that there may be hints into Planck scale physics in this.)

    I was hit by the correspondence with another recent paper on similar physics.

    The father of modern string theory Susskind, on the past-eternal physics of eternal inflation, finds that simple multiverse models favors a frozen in dynamic statistic (akin to criticality) by way of a first order tree model.

    Many universes would have supersymmetry at low energies and cosmological constants at low energy, as they tend towards a “master vacuum” (dominant vacuum). Those are also the livable universes (the dominant isn’t), which explains the selection.

    Of course, Susskind is anthropic theory perhaps #1 fan. But if the particle is a standard Higgs then it might be interesting to see what the Planck probe will have to say on inflation later this year. It might be interesting in _any_ case.

    So maybe physical laws are set not by initial conditions or magical tweaking but by what suits observers. Didn’t we have this discussion the other day!?

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 12:16 am | Permalink

      “So maybe physical laws are set … by what suits observers.”

      Careful! That’s sounds quite Deepak-Chopra-ish…

      Did you mean that the laws in our universe are as they are because otherwise observers (viz. us) would not exist to observe it? Or something else?


    • gravelinspector
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      But I’m not sure if that was in my universe, yours, or somewhere nearby?

  17. Posted July 5, 2012 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t advertise here, but if you click on my link you may find, as they used to say, something to your advantage. My unique variation is to put the Higgs not off to one side, but behindthe others.

    • Occam
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Two of your Standard Model items in particular ignited my imagination:

      1. The Standard Model Stackable Mugs:
      Not just topologically boggling; the implication of macroscopically stackable color andflavor combinations is staggering.

      2. The Standard Model Classic Thong:
      Seen in the perspective of Susskind’s eternal inflation, this model confers a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘strong anthropic principle’.
      As 007 said when confronted with Ms. Galore, “I must be dreaming.”

  18. ginger k
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Teh Higgz Boson — we haz it!

    I’m gonna make a LOLcat version…

    • gravelinspector
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      “Teh Higgz Bozon … iz what makes fur fluffy!” ?

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