Thursday, July 12, 2012

Higgs Boson Officially Discovered

On July 4th scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN announced that they had "probably" discovered the Higgs boson, the particle responsible for conferring mass in the Standard Model of quantum physics. After combining data from several experiments, they then announced two days ago that a new particle fitting the characteristics of the Higgs boson had indeed been discovered with a mass of approximately 126.5 GeV. This is a very important finding, as it demonstrates that the Standard Model's predictions regarding the nature of quantum phenomena have once more been proven correct. This article gives a great summary of the whole series of events. It's from Daily Kos, which is mostly a politics site, but it's the best account I've been able to track down. Here's a brief excerpt, but if you're interested in the physics you should go ahead and read the whole thing. In addition to the article itself, it has some links to previous postings (called "diaries" on the Daily Kos site) that give a more detailed overview of what the Higgs is and why it's so important to our understanding of particle physics.

A few minutes ago, one of the most important announcement in particle physics in the past 30 years was made by scientists working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, in Geneva. For decades, tens of thousands of physicists have been involved in an intense experimental search for the "holy grail" of particle physics, the Higgs Boson. It has now been discovered.

I'm a theoretical particle physicist, whose first paper in 1978 was about the Higgs. Since then, I've written over 100 published papers on the Higgs (in the Standard Model and in various alternatives). Had the LHC not found it, much of my career would have been spent on something that doesn't exist. It would be hard to describe how I'm feeling right now....

In four earlier diaries, I discussed the status of the Large Hadron Collider's (LHC) search for the Higgs. The first diary, last July, described what the Higgs boson is and why it is so important. The second diary, a week later, gave the first results presented from the LHC. No Higgs boson was found, but the range of possible masses was narrowed. In November, the final update on all of the data collected through last August, was presented in the third diary. The fourth discussed an announcement last December, covering all of last year's data, in which the first solid evidence for the Higgs was presented. Although solid, it wasn't enough to announce a discovery. All four diaries got a lot of comments and made the rec list. This may be the last, since the discovery has finally been made.

In this diary, I will give a rough idea of why the Higgs is so important, and what the new results are (and what they mean), and what will be done in the future. For a more detailed description, written at a level that I think is comprehensible to the layman, please look at the first diary above (some of the text in that diary is copied below).

In my last post I made the point that there's nothing in quantum physics that proves the existence of magick or paranormal phenomena. This is absolutely true - the Standard Model does not have a slot for "magetrons" or whatever you might call a particle related to the "energy" that magicians are always talking about. Still, it's important that mages have a basic understanding of quantum physics if they want to examine the inner workings of thaumaturgy. So long as magick remains confined to the realm of consciousness its interaction with physical laws is difficult to define, but the moment it acts upon the material world it must in some way interact with quantum-level phenomena. The Standard Model does not offer any sort of proof, but it does define in great detail the constraints placed upon operant magical phenomena. The discovery of the Higgs boson demonstrates just how accurate those definitions have turned out to be, as the existence of the Higgs was hypothesized back in the 1960's and it's only now that it's finally been observed.

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