July 4th, 2012 at 12:07 PM ^

They've run hundreds of millions of tests, and there is a 5 in 10 million chance that they're data is wrong, I would hardly call that 'flimsy evidence'.  There is no way in hell CERN would make this report if they only had 'flimsy evidence'.

As for the 'god particle' name, it was something that the media came up with, not the scientists who worked on it (the same media who stupidly claimed that the LHC had the possibility of detroying the Earth in a black hole).

WM Wolverine

July 4th, 2012 at 1:33 PM ^

I believe God particle refers to scientific assertion that this is the basic element of life.

The only problem being: what was before that and where did it come from and what was before that and where did it come from and what was before that and where did it come from and............................................................................................................................................................

You have to love "science".






July 4th, 2012 at 2:21 PM ^

Here's a brief summary as I would explain it to my students. Now, I'm a physics teacher, not a physicist, so take it for what it's worth. On the other hand, I have a physics degree from the greatest university in the world, and two former students of my own have worked or are working at CERN, so... anyway.

1. The Higgs boson is a particle that helps us explain mass. Basically, the Higgs boson and the Higgs field describe how other things like electrons and quarks can have mass. Higgs is the name of the guy who proposed it; boson just means a type of particle with integer spin (spin is a property that comes up in quantum mechanics but isn't too important right now).

2. The Standard Model of particle physics has been around for over forty years. There's only one piece that of it that hasn't been verified, and that's the Higgs piece. We haven't verified it because we've never had the technology to do so.

3. Finally, in the LHC, we have the technology to find the Higgs particle. The US was going to build something like this called the Superconducting Super Collider over a decade ago, but US Congress cut its funding. Basically, by 'technology,' I mean a machine that can smash atoms together very, very powerfully. The LHC in Switzerland/France (it's on the border), is something like 28 km in circumference. It's huge. Yet it's also so sensitive that they had to move gophers from its proximity because a gopher running right next to or on the beam tunnel has a chance to be strong enough to misalign the beam.

4. The Standard Model predicts the Higgs particle, but it doesn't predict its mass. So we had to do a lot of searching to find it. We finally found its mass to be about 125 GeV/c^2 (GeV is Giga electron-Volts of energy; one electron-volt of energy is the energy that one electron gain when it falls through one volt of potential difference. Notice that you divide energy, GeV, by c^2 to get mass. That comes from Einstein's equation, E = m*c^2: see, you divide E/c^2 and it equals m).

5. The method of search was to smash many, many protons together and sift through the debris. There's a ridiculous amount of debris created every second. We have to sift through all of it to find the very rare smash-ups that create a Higgs boson. Even when we find one of those rare smash-ups, we don't see the Higgs itself because it immediately decays into other particles. We use our Standard Model theory to find predict how the Higgs should decay, then we look for these decay products. When we find these decay products, we reconstruct the collision from the recorded data and determine that there was a Higgs particle there.

6. We want to find the Higgs - or prove that it wasn't there, but it turns out it was - because we want to know how the universe works. There are some huge mysteries out there in physics right now. Since 1998, we've known that our universe, instead of slowing down in its expansion as you might expect after the Big Bang occurred 13.5 billion years ago, is actually speeding up its expansion. We have zero ideas why. Gravity should be pulling things back together, slowing the expansion down, but instead we're expanding faster and faster, driven by... something. We call it dark energy. If we hadn't found the Higgs where the Standard Model predicted, that would have given us a giant clue as to what's wrong with our current theories and, perhaps, dark energy. There's also dark matter, which we've been looking for longer than I've been alive, but we still haven't found. If we had verified that the Higgs did not exist - and it was looking like that might happen, since 125 GeV was about the last mass it could possibly be at - then we may well have been looking at a signpost that said, "Hey, resolve your dark matter mystery right this way." But, it turns out, we did find the Higgs. So, now we know that the Standard Model is right in every testable way. Which means we have to look in a completely new direction. That's good to know. People won't waste time, now, looking for faults in the SM (well, some will, and who knows, maybe it won't be wasting time, but now the conventional wisdom, at least, is to look at other stuff).

One final caveat: Just because something is reported with a greater than 5-sigma confidence doesn't mean it's right. In other words, just because the announcement said that there's only a .0000whatever0001% chance we're wrong doesn't mean it's correct. Just last fall, there were faster-than-light neutrinos reported by an Italian experiment called OPERA, and their statistics showed that there was only a .0000whatever0001% chance they were wrong. Their statistics were right, of course, but the statistics were being run on data gathered with a loose cable that made the neutrinos seem faster than they really were. So, what I'm saying is, don't just go by 5-sigma. That said, in my opinion, this result will stand. I think they did find it, and unlike the FTL neutrinos, I don't think they're going to have to retract this result.

I saw a couple of people say or imply that there had been earlier claims of finding the Higgs. This is not true. Maybe some crackpots out there claimed to have found it, but no big experiment ever claimed to have found it. There were many, many announcements narrowing the range available for the Higgs mass, as the research went on, but nothing even touching a discovery announcement. Also, there is tons and tons of background noise in the search for the Higgs signal, so I don't know what that comment about "they're looking at clear data with no background" meant.

Check out www.profmattstrassler.com and http://www.science20.com/quantum_diaries_survivor and Peter Woit's site "Not Even Wrong" at Columbia (where this announcement was basically made a couple of weeks ago via rumor... us physics geeks in the pocket protector crowd have been "buckling up" for a while now getting ready for this announcement).

Also, another thing to come out of the Higgs search is that SUSY, or supersymmetry, doesn't exist. At least, it sure doesn't look like it. That's real rough on people who have spent 30 years of their lives working on the theory. Got to feel for them.

Sorry to go on for so long!


July 4th, 2012 at 2:55 PM ^

Couple quick questions. Did they come up with a new age for the universe when accounting for the acceration of expansion? Sorry to ask such simple questions after such an eloquent post BTW but to continue I never see the possibility of something outside our universe causing the acceleration being explored. How was that ruled out?


July 4th, 2012 at 3:17 PM ^

The short answer is yes, physicists absolutely take into account the recently observed accelerated rate of expansion when determining the age of the universe. The estimates of the age of the universe are tied into all kinds of things in cosmology, like the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang, for one. But if you're asking, could dark energy and the cosmological constant end up screwing over everything and totally revising our picture of the universe, the answer is, well, yes. Probably not. Probably it will turn out to be something not too world-defining. But could it turn out that the resolution of the dark energy question is as revolutionary as the resolution of the ether question that dominated the second half of 19th century physics (that resolution being space-time and relativity)? Yes, there's a chance it could. In my opinion, that'd be really cool.

To answer your other question theories of things "outside our universe" are all over the place. I think New Scientist magazine has run at least one cover story a year on the "multiverse" for the past decade. Do a search on M-theory or the multiverse or the landscape. There hasn't been any "ruling out."


July 4th, 2012 at 5:46 PM ^

I'll have to read more multiverse theories. The ones I've seen seem to deal with simultanious universes.(mostly addressing why we can't find dark matter)I haven't seen any pertaining to universes beyond ours.


July 4th, 2012 at 7:49 PM ^

I'm confused on why you say this undercuts supersymmetry. The last reports I saw prior to this announcement were that the discoveries showed a mass consistent with supersymmetry. Did this result come out with a different mass?


July 4th, 2012 at 10:00 PM ^

Basic answer is that a) Higgs mass of 125 GeV is ok with what supersymmetry predicts, but b) if Higgs does have a mass of 125 GeV, then supersymmetry also must predict a bunch of supersymmetric particles that we just don't see any evidence for. Another way to think of it is that a light (125 GeV) Higgs is actually salt in the wound for SUSY because a heavy Higgs would allow for supersymmetric partner particles to be heavy, and we haven't ruled out the heavy ones yet. But a light Higgs actually requires light supersymmetric particles, and a lot of those we _have_ ruled out, as far as I know.

As for how we've ruled out the supersymmetric particles' existence (at least a lot of the light ones, and again, they need to be light to do what they were postulated for in the first place, like explain dark matter, etc.), I believe the main way is like this: When the LHC smashes zillions of protons together, there is all this collision debris. When we sift through the debris, we can find decay products that point to particle P decaying into particles X, Y, and Z. So far so good. But now, if SUSY were true, and supersymmetric particles did exist, then in addition to particle P decaying into particles X, Y, and Z, we should also have, for example, particle sP decaying into particles X, Y, and Z. So, our production rates of X, Y, and Z should go up because in addition to particle P, we're also producing sparticle sP, and they both decay into X, Y, and Z. But alas, sad for the SUSY enthusiasts, we are not seeing any excess creation of X, Y, and Z. We are only seeing the rates exactly predicted by the Standard Model, no more, no less.

I'm sure there are other ways that SUSY is being ruled out, too. Here's an article from SciAm: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=is-supersymmetry-dead and the situation has only gotten worse since then (published in late April).

Again, I'm a physics teacher, not a physicist. Some particle physicist could give you much better answers, I'm sure. 



July 5th, 2012 at 11:55 AM ^

Very interesting. It appears that this would undercut string theory as well, since, as I understand it, SUSY was a bit of a byproduct of the development of String Theory, and ST depends on SUSY. Or am I wrong on that?

The article you link leaves hope that SUSY might still be true, but in the end, with current tools at hand, it suggests that it would be impossible to prove or disprove, so not an area that science can pursue at this time.

I appreciate your thoughts. As a layman with an interest in physics, I find this topic fascinating, and I only wish I had a greater understanding of the concepts and, in particular, the math underlying it.


July 5th, 2012 at 12:12 PM ^

(Sorry if this shows up twice, I tried posting 30 minutes ago and it didn't work)

I just wanted to add a couple things. I didn't read all the throughly, but I thought I'd chime in from CERN.  I'm a grad student over here.

The Higgs mechanism and particle have been predicted in one way or another for ~40 years, so this is huge.  It's not often you have these timescales, several experiments, and the (not 100% yet) correct answer.  We're not quite ready to say it's the Higgs boson as predicted. Although we know something similar is there, we have to measure the properties to see how they line up with a couple different models (e.g. Standard Model or Super Symmetry).

The mechanism gives us a way to give fundamental particles mass, e.g. quarks, electrons, W bosons, but not the photon!  It's starts getting more complicated, but without this the theory has massless particles and we have to put in the masses 'by hand.'  It's a common misconception that the mechanism gives mass to everything.  This is wrong and easily seen in the case of a proton, where the quarks make up 1% of its mass.  The rest comes from binding energy

Michigan played a role!  There are many factulty and students working (and who have worked) in Ann Arbor and at CERN on the Higgs search.  Even more,  the tubes for the some of the muon detector in ATLAS were built at Michigan.  

Go Blue 


July 4th, 2012 at 9:50 AM ^

I am not an experimental phycisist, but I have my doubts that they will ever have a clear answer. If the Higgs Boson is as small as they say it is, how will they detect it over the noise in their assay? They have already had some false starts where they thought they got it when in reality, it was a glich in the collider (experimental error). How do you develop a readout so sensitive the differentiate over this noise/error?

One Inch Woody…

July 4th, 2012 at 10:12 AM ^

Usually, in electronic readings, all data goes through an initial background subtraction using a bode plot. Therefore, whatever data these guys are looking at already has no background/noise in it. Also, if there was a trial that was glitched, that trial would be thrown out immediately. 

I should also say that since their hypothesis is so similar in value to their null hypothesis, they required n = 100 million + in order to verify, and each trial would have its background subtracted before statistical analysis.


July 4th, 2012 at 9:56 AM ^

I follow this site religiously. It is not only the super highway of information on everything Michigan athletics, but everything.... I am always amazed with the depth of comments, the broad spectrum of knowledge,and of course, the proper use of grammar!


July 4th, 2012 at 10:03 AM ^

Thousands of years and we still study things by the same flawed method that has restricted our greater understanding from our beginning. This is what we think we know now let's try to find things to fit the theory, smh. This is why we believe the end of the Universe is the end of all things, as we once thought our galaxy was the end, as we once thought our solar system was the end, as we once thought our planet was the end, as we once thought our local land mass was the end. It's almost cute it is so naive and dogmatic. It is our nature I suppose. I'll enjoy reading about how shocked they are to find out that things don't work how they thought and be frustrated that they didn't figure it out more quickly because they were so intent on proving things they didn't know.

Wisconsin Wolverine

July 4th, 2012 at 11:56 AM ^

I don't think TheGeneral has a firm understanding of how science really works, & it's pretty clear that he's projecting some invented mindset of scientists everywhere into his description of how we investigate things.  In fact, there is inherent irony in the way he scoffs at how we 'once thought our galaxy was the end, as we once thought our solar system was the end ...' etc. etc.  The reason we once thought these things is because our scientific method allows (more like insists) that we reject old models in favor of new ones with more evidence.  TheGeneral thinks he will enjoy reading about how shocked scientists are to discover that things didn't work out the way they expected?  Guess who else enjoys that?  Yes, scientists.  I feel pretty confident about this because I'm one of them - or at least, I'm currently working towards a neuroscience PhD & I spend basically all day every day working on my research projects.  In my time in the lab so far, I've already had numerous unexpected things jump out of the data at me.  It took me by surprise & disproved the nice little theory I had in mind, but I loved it because it made sense & it was fascinating.  I can't speak for everyone, but I can honestly say I'm committed to getting a more accurate picture of the 'truth' rather than only paying attention to findings that support what I want to be true.  If I'm understanding TheGeneral's complaints correctly (which I'm not even sure I am, because it seems like a vague, pointless rant), I find them to be baseless & inaccurate.

Wisconsin Wolverine

July 4th, 2012 at 12:32 PM ^

What you call a 'misconception' of mine was actually a novel, undeveloped idea that I entertained, which led to me ask the question: is it correct?  I did the experiments & discovered that no, it was not correct.  I don't mind being wrong about that at all ... in fact I love it.  I discovered something really cool (to me).  That's called progress.  You have to ask specific questions in science & test them.  A hypothesis lives or dies.  Either way, science wins.


July 4th, 2012 at 12:58 PM ^

Or it could be viewed that we would be further along if we asked new questions. We could extrapulate the same information whilst moving forward. I love what you do and commend you for it. I just don't embrace some parts of methodolgy.
I can think of about 100 different interesting tangents from this thread but I'll save you that lol. Best of luck in your research.


July 5th, 2012 at 1:41 PM ^

In all seriousness, if you aren't trolling,then you clearly just don't know what you are talking about.  I highly suspect that you have no idea how science works and just listen to the mass media.

Earlier you commented on how we thought the edge of the continent was the end of the world, followed by our solar system, followed by the edge of our universe.  You used this as an example of why the scientific method failed.  Unfortunately, you have this exactly backwards.  This is an example of why the method works.  When ships could not travel around the world, we were limited by technology and had no way to know that earth was round.  Additionally, the formal scientific method had not even been developed at this piont.  When technology advanced sufficiently to prove otherwise, we realized that the earth did not have an edge and was round.  As telescopes advanced we were able to better understand the fact that there is much more than just our planet and solar system and that the universe is expanding.  

I'm currently pursuing a phd and part of my thesis will be an exploratory project.  It's high risk, high reward.  My hypothesis is based on a number of seperate experiments and i believe that with the technology my lab developed I will be able to show that a number of molecular pathways converge in this process.  If everything goes perfectly, this type of project has a lot of potential.  If not, then many many thousands of dollars, the lives of many mice, and several years of time will just show that I was wrong.  My other experiments involve much less risk and much more modest potential. However, that balance is necessary in order for me to finish something productive. All of these experiments involve asking a novel question, but they are all based on previous observations and expectations.  I can't just go in saying, i have no idea how this process works.  Lets test every possible combination or just go in blindly and try to observe something.  If you don't control your parameters to test for somethign specific, then you can't test for anythign at all.

I realize my description is vague, but my point is you have some major misconceptions about science.  The scientific method is proven to work and there is no realistic, efficient, and economical alternative.



I Bleed Maize N Blue

July 5th, 2012 at 9:20 PM ^

When ships could not travel around the world, we were limited by technology and had no way to know that earth was round.

Well, it kinda depends what you mean by "know."  OK, so the ancient Greeks didn't have seaworthy ships that they could see sail over the horizon and then come back, but travelers could observe that the positions of stars look different depending on how far north or south you were.

~240 BC Eratosthenes estimated the circumference of the earth.  Having heard that on the summer solstice the sun was directly overhead in Syene, but cast a shadow in Alexandria, he used the difference in angles of the shadows to make his calculation.

One Inch Woody…

July 4th, 2012 at 10:15 AM ^

This is the essence of science and the scientific method - you seek to fit an existing model. But, really most scientists will tell you that the best kind of data is the one that repeatedly does NOT fit the model. That is when you know you have discovered something. Again, statistical analysis is required for all non-discoveries just like discoveries. This method is what has brought us modern computing, television, forays into space, and the polymer revolution. I'd say it works great :)


July 4th, 2012 at 11:48 AM ^

I'm not sure you know what dogmatic means.  Instead of going the route where dogmatic pertains to church doctorines or principles, if you define dogmatic as arrogantly accepting assumptions or unproved theories as unquestionable fact, it actually fits in quite well in TheGeneral's odd ramblings.


July 4th, 2012 at 12:35 PM ^

If the existence of the Higgs Boson were "unquestionable fact" why would we be looking for data to support its existence? 

Disputing and doubting are encouraged within science; in fact they are essential to its progress.  Just look at the wording from the press conference today -- the announcement of the discovery is steeped in caution and the speakers are careful to express the uncertainty of their knowledge. 

Of course dogmatic beliefs are not confined to religion.   But this is quite a good demonstration of the opposite of dogma, which in contrast involves complete certainty and is not informed by evidence.  

Dogmatic beliefs don't change.  That is why it is humorous that The General is criticizing science for changing and for being dogmatic in the same paragraph.


July 4th, 2012 at 12:44 PM ^

"This is why we believe the end of the Universe is the end of all things, as we once thought our galaxy was the end, as we once thought our solar system was the end, as we once thought our planet was the end, as we once thought our local land mass was the end."

I'm not getting in a scientific debate with you, I'm debating on whether or not he used the word "dogmatic" appropriately.  Since the above sentence preceded the sentence where he used dogmatic, we can assume this is what he intended that word to apply to.  This sentence includes beliefs that were presented in a dogmatic manner in their age.  Even though there were some that pursued the truth about these things, at the time, most unquestionably believed these things he mentioned even though there was no proof.  Based on this short analysis of his writing, his usage of dogmatic was more than appropriate.


July 4th, 2012 at 11:31 AM ^

Appreciate you engaging rather than going off on preconceived notions which coincidently was my point. I am fascinated by all new discoveries as are these scientists. I just don't like the need to make things fit first. Observe first.


July 4th, 2012 at 11:48 AM ^

Not sure why you think they made this "fit" or that the scientists, in general, seek to make data "fit." They had a model for what they believed happend, and then sought to test if that was true. That's research 101! It's not like they're manipulating data. I think this is hard to appreciate, but the signal for the Higgs particle could have been found in a lot of places. Heck, they could have found multiple signals for all anyone knew. The fact that it matches the theory is a good thing, and will hopefully help lead to many others.


July 4th, 2012 at 3:03 PM ^

The point is though, what is the alternative?  Postulating a theory, then seeking evidence to support or refute it, is fundamental to scientific research.  It doesn't mean you have pre-conceived ideas that are not open to change.  It provides a formalized structure for experimentation.

One of the great comments out of CERN today (saw it this morning but don't recall which scientist made it) was that it would actually be more exciting if the Higgs-Boson were not found because it would mean everything was more complicated than they thought.