Jul 5, 2012

CERN Strikes Boson

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Those magnificent bastards at CERN may well have discovered the God Particle... and cost Stephen Hawking a hundred bucks. It seems the renowned physicist had bet against the Higgs Boson ever being found. It is still not entirely clear that the particle found by the Large Hadron Collider experiments is the Higgs. It may be a different boson but they are pretty darned sure that it's a boson.

“I think we have it,” said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director general of CERN, the multinational research center headquartered in Geneva. The agency is home to the Large Hadron Collider, the immense particle accelerator that produced the new data by colliding protons. The findings were announced by two separate teams. Dr. Heuer called the discovery “a historic milestone.”

He and others said that it was too soon to know for sure, however, whether the new particle is the one predicted by the Standard Model, the theory that has ruled physics for the last half-century. The particle is predicted to imbue elementary particles with mass. It may be an impostor as yet unknown to physics, perhaps the first of many particles yet to be discovered.

That possibility is particularly exciting to physicists, as it could point the way to new, deeper ideas, beyond the Standard Model, about the nature of reality.

For now, some physicists are simply calling it a “Higgslike” particle.

Physicists seem very excited. Laypeople less so. All those caveats, maybes, and promises of further analysis, make people nervous. Personally, I would find certitude more concerning. There is more than enough arrogance coming out of CERN already. But the folks at Salon are wondering if the price tag for all this theoretical physics is worth it, even if it could provide the key to understanding how the universe is constructed.

When it was switched on in 2008, the British government’s then chief science advisor, David King, asked whether its $10 billion dollar budget couldn’t be put to better use combating climate change or disease.

That was before the full of extent of Europe’s debt crisis was known. Had the collider still been in its infancy today, when governments are plundering academic grants and other spending to pay off creditors, its future would doubtless face greater uncertainty.

. . .

Physicists involved in the LHC insist it is worth every cent. It might not offer any tangible benefits at the moment they say, but it is the final part of a century-long journey of scientific discovery that has already gifted mankind many medical and technological breakthroughs.

But since the latest announcement out of CERN stops short of claiming the existence of Higgs boson, is it enough to merit the money lavished upon it?

They make the point that a similar research center in the US was shut down last year because of budget constraints. I'd hate to think that this announcement and the hype leading up to it was timed to prevent budget cuts for CERN but it's one possibility. I prefer to think that they've really made an incredible discovery and managed to do so without damaging the fabric of the known universe.

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