Higgledy piggledy

This weekend, the physics internet is abuzz with rumours of the possible discovery of the Higgs boson by the ATLAS collaboration at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). I say “rumours”, because the source is a leaked internal note, left in the comments of the blog Not Even Wrong.

Some people think it’s a hoax, some think it’s the greatest thing ever – an OMG particle, perhaps. But the majority of commenters seem to think that the note is likely to be genuine, just a bit premature for excitement.

The LHC produces a ludicrous amount of data – about 700 MB per second, or about 15 million GB per year. It takes a very long time to thoroughly analyse this data, with many rounds of review. Even then, because we’re talking about random events, you still have the chance of statistical flukes gumming up the works.

So it feels a bit early in the whole experiment for such a sensational result; but even if it is real, it’s going to take a while for them to convince the rest of us. But hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, and if the researchers didn’t think they had a chance of finding the Higgs, why would they bother?

But I have to say I was also a tiny bit disappointed when I first heard the news: the Higgs boson is the final missing piece of the standard model of particle physics, so if we find it, what then? Yes, it explains why the fundamental particles have mass, but it doesn’t tell us why their masses are the values they are. Or why the fundamental forces have different strengths. Or anything at all about gravity.

However, the leaked note says that the signal they found was about 30 times larger than expected for the Higgs boson in the standard model. So if it is real… then it may also be the first clue to physics beyond the standard model. Which would be cool. But it’s probably not, so I shouldn’t get my hopes up.

For more about this “discovery”, see John Butterworth’s excellent column (and video) at The Guardian, or Sarah Kavassilis and her Language of Bad Physics.

And for more about the Higgs, see this tale at my old blog (cross-promotion).


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