Discovery of Higgs boson really, truly confirmed

Last July, physicists at CERN confirmed the discovery of the Higgs boson, the last missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics. Well, I thought they had confirmed it, but according to news sources today it’s been really, really confirmed. That puzzled me, but apparently at a meeting the new particle has been announced to have a spin of zero, as required for the Higgs (it’s the only particle with zero spin).  The BBC reports:

“This is the start of a new story of physics,” said Tony Weidberg, Oxford University physicist and a collaborator on the Atlas experiment.

“Physics has changed since July the 4th – the vague question we had before was to see if there was anything there,” he told BBC News.

“Now we’ve got more precise questions: is this particle a Higgs boson, and if so, is it one compatible with the Standard Model?”

The results reported at the conference – based on the entire data sets from 2011 and 2012 – much more strongly suggest that the new particle’s “spin” is zero – consistent with any of the theoretical varieties of Higgs.

“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” said CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela.

As is often the case in particle physics, a fuller analysis of data will be required to establish beyond doubt that the particle is a Higgs of any kind. But Dr Weidberg said that even these early hints were compelling.

“This is very exciting because if the spin-zero determination is confirmed, it would be the first elementary particle to have zero spin,” he said.

I’ve recommended before that you read Sean Carroll’s new book to learn about the hunt for the Higgs, and recently the New York Times also published a long and informative piece by Dennis Overbye called “Chasing the Higgs”. Note that, unlike other multipage NYT pieces, you must click on the arrow at the bottom right of each page to go from one section to the next.



  1. Martin
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    And to think – they discovered this by just closing themselves off in a room for two days, releasing white smoke when they’d finally discovered the Higgs. It’s an amazing thing, science.

    • Posted March 14, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Meanwhile, by accelerating cardinals to near light-speed and allowing them to collide head on, a new pope has been discovered!


  2. MKray
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Well, I asked a prominent member of the Atlas team whether the new particle had been established to be spin zero, and he was more cautious and said, in so many words, that it was looking that way. But spin zero and the correct parity are not yet cast iron confirmed.

  3. Pirate
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    A small correction… the Higgs boson is the only known fundamental particle with zero spin, but it is not the only particle with zero spin. There are other non-fundamental particles (certain mesons, for instance, which are made up of quarks, and hence non-fundamental) that have spin zero.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Are photons also spin 0?

      • MKray
        Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        No, spin 1. Hence the polarization of light. Also because of zero mass, only two basic polarization states (e.g. up-down and left-right) although general spin-1 particles have three possible spin sub-states.

  4. Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Yeah! Now I just need to find something that will explain all of this to my primitive neanderthal brain. I feel like the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer when reading about this stuff.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      The greatest ramification is that everyday superstition is thrown out of the universe. (I’m skipping the boring “Higgs gives Standard Model massive particles mass, yadda yadda yadda”.)

      This follows from the wonderful physics of the vacuum, where the particle physicists tells us that everything that isn’t explicitly forbidden will happen. (Can happen, actually. But then again, wait long enough…)

      Ordinary we think of physics laws as that only what is explicitly allowed will happen. But here they have full access to every piece of everyday matter that affects other pieces of matter.

      The quantum description of the electromagnetic field gives them predictions with today 11 significant digits. And the Standard Model tells us the particle fields up to roughly the Higgs mass. (Not all excitations and composite particles, I think. But all field-field interactions, or at least that is my impression.)

      So nothing exciting happens up to some 100’s of GeV. Considering that everyday chemistry operates at some eV, it is eminently protected from “new physics”. Dark matter say, if it is self-annihilating WIMPS, will interact so little (or it had been seen already) that it translates to a minute amount of heat.

      Certainly nothing that you can base ideas of prayers, ESP, telekinesis or other “radio techniques” of the mind on. If it isn’t electromagnetic (say, sensing magnetic field direction) it is now known it is quite simply *not there*.

      For religious superstition though you mostly need cosmology (except prayers, virgin births, lone mammal breeding pairs, et cetera) to throw it out. (Spontaneous universe from Standard Cosmology.)

      Science, the great superstition killer. I can haz fizzics juniverse nao?

      • Posted March 14, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        The latest foolishness now circulating (that I have seen) is that there is this “Universal Consciousness” and it beams out like radio waves, and we are like “radio receivers”…ergo we get “conscious”, through an undetectable transmission. Why undetectable? Oh, you know..”quantum physics” and you know, Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle”…you try to measure it or detect it, and it moves!

        • Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          This seems to me to be evidence that dark matter (or perhaps dark energy… or both) is actually stupidity. …that it outweighs “normal” mass-energy (a fraction of which is responsible for rational thought) 9-to-1 in the universe. Perhaps Upchuck Dopera could look into this idea. (preferably off-camera and out of print, forever)

          • Greg Fitzgerald
            Posted March 14, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

            This reminds me of this quote from Frank Zappa, of all people:

            “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.”

            I included this quote on a tenth grade chemistry project, and my teacher loved it.

            • Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

              Zappaphile that I am, that quote was running through my head when I made my comment. I cannot tell a lie. 🙂

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

          Have you been talking to Archimedes Plutonium again? You know that it’s bad for your health, even if you do put plugs into your ears to stop your brain from leaking out after he’s liquidised (uh, EN_US : “blended”?) it for you.

  5. Dan
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    They found particles of Jesus! Wow.

    • Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Nah… they just found the goddamn particle.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 14, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        I think of dark matter as “the godless particle” (has standard cosmological implications, and SC kills creator gods).

        Higgs is more of “the particle without a prayer” to me, see my longish comment.

        [More seriously, it is orthogonal to generic religious superstition. But it does it no good, say for ideas such as prayer “text messaging”.]

  6. neil
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    As I read the news, what is being confirmed today is that the Higgs is just-as-advertised by the Standard Model, and not some “super” Higgs. There were some anomolies last summer, which were potentially interesting, but they are now shown not to be significant. This is important because the confirmation of a SM Higgs does not point in any new direction for the development of high energy physics. Things could get boring.

  7. eric
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t know whether the effort involved was trivial or monumental or somewhere in between, but going from “mass agrees with model” to “mass and spin agree with model” seems like a pretty big accomplishment to me. Especially since this particular spin is so rare: if there was some other random non-Higgs particle at that mass, the odds of it having this spin have to be pretty low.

  8. Gordon Munro
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Does the Peter Principle apply to the Higgs or not?

  9. NoAstronomer
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it’s just me but I couldn’t award a Nobel prize for this. Thousands of scientists and engineers worked to build an experiment, that is essentially a scaled up version of existing experiments, to confirm something we already figured out anyway. An experiment lavishly funded by the taxpayers of the US and Europe. Granted for many of those scientists and engineers this represented their lifes work, but is effort enough for a Nobel? Perhaps it’s a good job I’m not on the Nobel committee.


    • eric
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      I guess we would have to ask them, but I expect that many of that ‘team of thousands’ would probably be very happy to have an individual representative of the whole project get the Nobel. I think most people accept that sometimes symbolic acknowledgement is still better than none at all.

      On your “just a scaled up version” comment, scaling up is not necessarily a trivial job to be handwaved away. It can require novel and remarkable engineering to achieve. “Perhaps the engineers should get the award then” I hear you say. I’d be fine with that. There’s an engineering Nobel, if the committee thinks they deserve that. But it doesn’t preclude the scientists from also getting one.

      On your “something we already figured out anyway” comment, I am not sure how you mean it. If you mean: the standard model predicted it, so there was no need to even look for the mass – that makes no sense. Hypotheses and theories are often wrong in the details. That is why we test them. Testing our ideas is crucial, even if after the fact we turn out to be right and the effort might be considered ‘wasted.’ Or maybe you mean: the mass detection experiment worked, there was no need to do a confirming experiment. To that I say: am personally fine with awards going to the occasional confirmation experiment. IMO science accolades are already skewed away from confirmation work to such a great extent that we* probably do a lot less of it than we should. If the occasional award goes to an important, technically remarkable, or elecant confirmation experiment, I think that’s a fine thing. By all means reward discoveries, but there can be some room for accolades for confirmation experiments, yes?

      *Rhetorical “we.” IANA working scientist.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      An experiment lavishly funded by the taxpayers of the US and Europe.

      I think you’ll find that the funding is quite widely spread.
      Five European states between them make up just over 2/3 of the funding, with the next largest contribution being “Other sources”, which presumably includes the direct contribution from the USA. Which doesn’t include the technical input from US particle physicists, engineers, computer scientists etc,
      All of which just goes to show how difficult it is to quantify the progress of science in terms of cents and hecto-cents (whether you call them dollars or euros).

    • Jeremy Pereira
      Posted March 20, 2013 at 3:07 am | Permalink

      They will award the prize to Peter Higgs and the other people that independently suggested the same idea.

  10. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    So call it the “Zero Spin Boson” and take that insufferable accommodationist Peter Higgs’ name off of it, please!

    • Gordon Munro
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      What joy to be a founding member of the CSIPT, the Committee for the Supression of
      Impure Terminology.

  11. marksolock
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

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