Higgs boson. Is this evidence of the God particle we’ve all been waiting for?

Higgs boson. Is this evidence of the God particle weve all been waiting for?Higgs boson. Is this evidence of the God particle weve all been waiting for?Higgs boson. Is this evidence of the God particle weve all been waiting for?

That Goddamn Particle… 

One of the ongoing dilemmas of science has been coming up with an explanation of the origin of mass. Understanding its make up, disposition, origin is tantamount to understanding who God is, assuming you believe in such things. After all, understanding where mass comes from is in some way understanding who or what God is. That in itself doesn’t necessarily come to explain how this week’s discovery of a scientific aversion, the Higgs Boson phenomena actually comes to explain who or what God is. Scientists are never easily convinced of such things…

To understand why Tuesday’s breakthrough experiments at CERN, Geneva are such a big deal one has to appreciate the central notions that allows scientists to disclose what mass is or isn’t and how individuals particles exist to be part of a greater collective. In short Higgs a scientist back in the 60′s reasoned the following: “that all these particles exist in a field, and their mass is a reflection of how much they interact with that field. Heavy particles have a lot of interaction. Lighter particles are relatively standoffish. If this field exists, the Higgs Boson is the tiny thing it’s made of.”

A small hump in the plot –  that captures the properties of billions of protons smashing into each other at almost the speed of light: that’s the first revolutionary evidence that hints at the experimental discovery of the Higgs boson, a.k.a. The God Particle. It looks like there might be an eccess in the detection of decay products from the proton-proton head collisions (that’s the little hump in the plot, or what is commonly known as the trail of something that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye and let’s scientists fathom the existence of the Higgs Boson theorem). I know, it is so hard to tell! That’s what the nine thousand scientists onboard the two experiments at CERN have been trying to figure out for a while.

Why do people refer to the Higgs boson as “The God Particle”? Funny story. In his 1993 book, Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate in Physics, talks about the history of particle physics. At the time, the Higgs boson was already on the run. Lederman wanted to call his book The Goddamn Particle because “nobody could find the thing.” But the publisher, against his own will, changed the title into “The God Particle.” Even before its discovery, the Higgs boson was already a rebel scalar field…

But we are really not quite there yet. This Tuesday at CERN, Geneva, spokespersons for the ATLAS and CMS collaborations, Fabiola Giannotti and Guido Tonelli, gave the big news. Physics Departments everywhere are after the new data release. The eccess in the measurements may be explained by the creation of a new particle of mass about 125 times the mass of the proton. There’s still one chance in five thousand that this is a fake, just a statistical fluctuations. But it sounds too good to be true: the hump is more or less where the theory predicted it would be…

It is still early to throw Nobel Prizes around, but one thing is for sure. Peter Higgs, the man after whom the boson was named, is anticipating the (third of the) million euro prize – the other two thirds are going to go to the experimental collaborations. If the two colossal experiments split it evenly, it would be something like a thousand bucks for each member of the collaboration. Still, discovering The Goddamn Particle is arguably priceless…

To prove rock solid that the little hump will turn into a full-fledged discovery, we need to wait for a few more months. The Large Hadron Collider is shutting down for an upgrade and is going to be back in the spring – running at twice as much power, a dozen Teraelettronvolts. If the Higgs is really hiding behind that little hump in the plot, it’s going to be nailed, no mercy. The experimentalists are the warrior types: they never give up. To be recognized by the community as an official discovery, you have to measure the Higgs boson to an accuracy of one part in a million. A very tough call, in the microscopic battlefield at the hadron collider. These guys deserve a million each for their work!

Higgs boson. Is this evidence of the God particle weve all been waiting for?The Higgs boson is the the last particle in the Standard Model list: it has been missing for nearly forty years. But now it’s back. All other elementary particles, leptons (the electron and its cousins), quarks and gluons, the photon and its massive cousins have been very well known to physicists for decades. The last family member of the third family, the top quark, was created at the Tevatron accelerator in Chicago in the early nineties. The top quark is even heavier than the Higgs boson, a super massive particle. Since then, the almighty power of the CERN and Tevatron particle accelerators was focused on the hunt for the Higgs boson – nowhere to be found.

But, anyway, what about this Higgs boson? Well, the authenticity of this signal would change the way we think of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Forty-two, that can’t be the Higgs boson mass. What a deceiving clue. Either way one can suppose it will engender the belief in God or repudiate it, which is the great irony of science, as much as it seeks to dispel the notion of supernatural forces at work it ultimately forces one to wonder if that is ultimately what is at work, thus bringing science and the idea of God closer together as much as science may wish to dispense with it.

Still waiting for the mini-black holes, by the way. Some string theorists predicted the production of black holes, those powerful gravity spots that eat everything around them. And then evaporate in a firework of particles. We hope those theories will be falsified soon.

So, the Higgs boson, congrats, great discovery. It was predicted to be there already decades ago. If the accelerator was a person, I’d ask her: Now tell me something I don’t know!