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Ian Sample - Higgs particle http://www.iansample.com:/site/?q=taxonomy/term/1/0 en A new chapter for Massive http://www.iansample.com:/site/?q=content/new-chapter-massive <p>I spent the months after 4th July 2012 - or discovery day, as history will have it - interviewing many of those most caught up in the hunt for the Higgs boson. I wanted to know how they finally uncovered the particle, how the engineers pushed the Large Hadron Collider as hard as they dared, and how the scientists worked flat out, and against the clock, to pull those gold-plated signatures of the Higgs boson from the scrappy debris of countless subatomic collisions. I wanted to know how they felt as the particle showed its face. They were first to see something new in Nature. Many had worked all their careers for this moment.</p> <p>The stories I heard are the backbone of a new chapter that appears in a re-release of Massive, published first in the US and UK in January 2013. My aim with the fresh material was to recreate the year leading up to the discovery announcement, and those fascinating weeks after, through the eyes of several key players, including the heads of both the ATLAS and CMS detector groups at CERN; the Director-General of CERN; the head of the accelerator team, and, of course, Peter Higgs. Here are the <a href="http:// http://www.amazon.com/Massive-Missing-Particle-Sparked-Greatest/dp/0465058736/ref=pd_sxp_grid_i_2_2">US</a> and <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Massive-Higgs-Boson-Greatest-Science/dp/075354153X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;amp;s=books&amp;amp;qid=1274731480&amp;amp;sr=8-1">UK</a> paperbacks:</p> <p><img alt="" src="/site/sites/default/files/Sample-Massive pb.jpg" style="width: 240px; height:300px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; float: left;" /></p> <p><img alt="" src="/site/sites/default/files/Massive.jpg" style="width: 240px; height: 300px; float: right;" /></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than anything, as I think back to the interviews, the stories strike me as moving and inspiring. Behind the scenes, away from the cameras and press conferences, this was a collossal effort, a demonstration of extraordinary dedication, and sheer bloody brilliance, by so many scientists and engineers. I already felt this way about many of my interviewees, but time and again, I came away from lengthy conversations with those at the heart of the hunt thinking these are our role models, the people we should praise and aspire to be like.</p> <p>Plenty made me laugh. A Dutch film crew got wind of the discovery and tracked Peter Higgs down in an ancient hilltop village in Sicily, days before the official announcement was made. They scripted several scenes for their film, including one in which Peter sat down with a Dutch physicist who unveiled the crucial results on a laptop. Peter was supposed to look excited, but he didn&#39;t know how to read the plots he was shown. &quot;People have to tell me that&#39;s the bump that&#39;s significant, so it took several takes for me to look happy enough,&quot; Higgs told me.</p> <p>Other stories moved me, and I am not so easily moved. The moment the heads of the ATLAS and CMS collaborations first realised they had a discovery on their hands, the moment the raw plots fell into their hands, was extraordinary to hear about. Excitement, yes, in spades, but there was anxiety, stress and hard graft ahead. CERN could not afford to get this wrong.</p> <p>In the run-up to 4th July, the scientists&#39; data were still hot. At the highest levels of CERN, the fact that the lab had made a discovery had not fully sunken in. There is a lovely few seconds of video you can watch for yourself, and a quote in the new chapter, that demonstrates this. <a href="http://cds.cern.ch/record/1459513?ln=en">Take a look at the CERN seminar from 4th July</a>. Joe Incandela, head of CMS, speaks first. Watch from around 25 mins 40 seconds. You&#39;ll see Joe pause for nearly 10 seconds when he shows a plot with a big Higgsy-bump in it, change the slide, and then say to the audience &quot;I was lost for a moment, excuse me.&quot; I asked Joe about this when I returned to CERN a few weeks later. In replying, he mentions Chiara Mariotti, a colleague who in June had shown him the first plot that suggested they had found the particle: &quot;I realised that everything we had to do was done, from the night Chiara sent me that plot, up until the talk, which I had just finished. We&#39;d made it. I remember giving the talk and at a certain point I showed this plot with a bump and people in the audience gasped. I stood back and thought I&#39;m just going to linger on this for a few seconds. It really hit me then: <em>we&#39;ve really discovered something</em>. I started to enjoy it during the talk. That was the first moment I&#39;d had to relax, and it was the most high pressure talk I&#39;d ever given.&quot;</p> <p>I love that. The fact that they had made a discovery only fully sank in as they gave their talks.</p> <p>There is plenty more in the new chapter. How did CERN leak a video that scooped their own story, the day before the announcement? What happened when a beam of protons hurtled off course and threatened to punch a hole in the Large Hadron Collider? There&#39;s Peter&#39;s explanation for crying as the audience gave Incandela and Fabiola Gianotti, the head of ATLAS, a standing ovation, and his own muted celebration, on a budget flight back home to Edinburgh.</p> <p>The new chapter adds more than 10,000 words to the book. To hear the stories of these amazing people was an unforgettable experience for me, and I hope you&#39;ll enjoy them too.</p> http://www.iansample.com:/site/?q=content/new-chapter-massive#comments CERN Higgs boson Higgs particle Large Hadron Collider Peter Higgs Wed, 13 Feb 2013 23:42:50 +0000 Ian Sample 39 at http://www.iansample.com:/site The final hiding place? http://www.iansample.com:/site/?q=content/final-hiding-place <p>The Large Hadron Collider has left little room for the Higgs to hide after a spectacular tour de force that kicked off the summer conference season.</p> <p>Among particle physicists there is a palpable feeling that, one way or another, we will soon know whether the famously elusive particle exists or not. The answer might well set the course of physics for decades to come.</p> <p>The summer meetings are always worth watching: these are major dates on the scientific calendar when the world of high-energy physics gathers to announce its latest findings. The work can sound arcane at first pass, but the big discoveries made public at these meetings can go on to earn Nobel prizes.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> The season began last week, with scientists heading to France for <a href="http://eps-hep2011.eu/">the Europhysics Conference on High Energy Physics in Grenoble</a>. If anything was clear beforehand, it was that the Large Hadron Collider was performing well beyond expectations.</p> <p>Even with that in mind, the results from the world&rsquo;s most powerful particle collider were nothing short of breathtaking. In one fell swoop, the LHC had searched and dismissed a vast range of masses that the Higgs particle - as described by the Standard Model at least - might take. If the particle exists in this form, the likelihood now is that it lurks in a low and narrow range of masses that will be fully explored within months.</p> <p>The hunt for the Higgs at the LHC plays out almost exclusively in two general-purpose detectors called Atlas and CMS. The search proceeds by smashing protons into one another and looking for hints of the Higgs in the debris of those collisions. The Higgs particle, if real, has only a fleeting existence, and decays immediately into other well-known particles. Which ones depend mostly on the mass of the Higgs particle, which nobody yet knows.</p> <p>Back in 2000, the LHC&rsquo;s predecessor at CERN,<a href="http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/research/lep-en.html"> the Large Electron Positron collider</a>, ruled out a Standard Model Higgs boson below around 115 GeV (gigaelectron volts). Since then the Tevatron has excluded the Higgs particle between 157-173 GeV. Indirect evidence &ndash; that is inferring the Higgs mass from precision measurements of the top quark and so on &ndash; suggest the Higgs is no heavier than 185GeV.</p> <p>So what did the LHC detector groups find?</p> <p>Atlas ruled out a Standard Model Higgs boson from <a href="http://indico.in2p3.fr/contributionDisplay.py?contribId=299&amp;sessionId=6&amp;confId=5116">155-190 GeV and 295-450 GeV</a>. Meanwhile, CMS excluded the range <a href="http://indico.in2p3.fr/contributionDisplay.py?contribId=189&amp;sessionId=6&amp;confId=5116">149-206 GeV and 300-440 GeV</a>.</p> <p>This means that if the Higgs boson is the kind described by the Standard Model &ndash; that is, the simplest possible - it probably lies in the region 115 &ndash; 149GeV. It will take more data to scour this region for signs of the Higgs.</p> <p>These results were impressive enough, but there was more to the story last week. Atlas reported a bump in its data &ndash; due to an apparent excess of particle decays &ndash; in the region 120GeV to 140GeV. That excess might just be due to the Higgs particle, but the strength of the signal was too low to claim official evidence.</p> <p>The Atlas bump was intriguing in itself, but signals like these can easily be caused by statistical fluctuations in data or poorly modelled backgrounds. What makes the bump slightly more exciting is that the CMS detector saw a similar, though smaller bump in the same region. This is tantalising stuff, but it helps to keep a level head.</p> <p>There is a chance that both detectors have seen their first glimpse of the Higgs particle, but this is only one possibility. The detectors model their backgrounds &ndash; that is the decays from other particles &ndash; in similar ways, so if the modelling is flawed, both detectors could see a spurious bump in the same place. In short, this is more interesting than exciting.</p> <p>I tried to write about this potential glimpse of the Higgs particle in the Guardian, but what appeared was a minor car crash. The headline, &ldquo;<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/jul/22/cern-higgs-boson-god-particle">Cern scientists suspect glimpse of Higgs boson God particle</a>&rdquo;, was only the most cringe-inducing problem, and managed to be simultaneously wrong and embarrassing. Hardly anyone outside a newsroom likes the phrase &ldquo;God particle&rdquo;. (<a href="http://www.iansample.com/site/?q=content/god-physics-and-book-titles">More on that here.</a>) More seriously, no-one I spoke with at Cern suspected they had glimpsed the Higgs: there are simply too many other explanations right now. These needless exaggerations grate. There is a chance England will win the next World Cup, but I don&#39;t suspect it will happen.</p> <p>If you have never followed the hunt for the Higgs, now is a good time to start. By the end of August, Atlas and CMS plan to combine their results using data from more collisions. If the low mass excesses get bigger, it will be hard not to start wondering whether the Higgs has finally begun to show itself. We should hear more at <a href="http://www.tifr.res.in/~lp11/">the Lepton-Photon conference in Mumbai</a>.</p> <p>And what then? When I interviewed Steven Weinberg, the Nobel prize-winning physicist at the University of Texas at Austin, during my research for Massive, I asked him what it would mean for physicists to find the Standard Model Higgs boson. He replied that rather than pull physics out of the doldrums, it would plunge physics into the doldrums. The problem is this: Find the single SM Higgs boson and the Standard Model becomes a jigsaw complete. As wonderful as that would be, it gives us no new clues as to what lies beyond the Standard Model. And something must. Much better would be to find more than one Higgs.</p> <p>One of the most popular theories for taking physics beyond the Standard Model is supersymmetry, which says that each type of known particle has a heavy and as-yet-undiscovered twin. There is a beauty to supersymmetry, but its real appeal is in describing gravity and the other three known forces of nature. It also predicts more than one kind of Higgs particle. But results released from the LHC at Grenoble did nothing to bolster confidence in supersymmetry. They ruled out supersymmetric particles below 1.2Tev (teraelectron volts), putting the squeeze on supersymmetry itself.</p> <p>What is amazing about all of this is that so much has come so quickly from the Large Hadron Collider. There is more to come. The Large Hadron Collider has begun to wield its might.<br /> &nbsp;</p> http://www.iansample.com:/site/?q=content/final-hiding-place#comments CERN Higgs boson Higgs particle Large Hadron Collider Sun, 24 Jul 2011 20:53:57 +0000 Ian Sample 34 at http://www.iansample.com:/site On the Higgs row and Nobel reform http://www.iansample.com:/site/?q=content/higgs-row-and-nobel-reform <p>&ldquo;The goddess of learning is fabled to have sprung full-grown from the brain of Zeus, but it is seldom that a scientific conception is born in its final form, or owns a single parent.&rdquo; George Paget Thomson, June 1938.</p> <p><a href="http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1937/thomson-lecture.html">Speaking in his Nobel lecture</a>, G. P. Thomson (son of J.J.) went on to lay out the history of physics behind the electron, but his comment could easily refer to the Higgs mechanism, which has a muddled parentage at best.</p> <p>Last week, <a href="http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100804/full/news.2010.390.html">Nature carried news of a dust-up</a> over who should get credit for the mass-giving theory that has ended up with Higgs&rsquo;s name. The website for a <a href="http://higgshunting.fr/">&ldquo;Higgs Hunting&rdquo; conference in Paris</a> referred only to three of the six physicists who lay claim to the idea. The names up in lights were Francois Englert, Robert Brout and Peter Higgs. Those missed off the billing were Gerald Guralnik, Dick Hagen and Tom Kibble.</p> <p>The row came as no surprise. As the <a href="http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/lhc/lhc-en.html">Large Hadron Collider</a> and <a href="http://www.fnal.gov/">Tevatron at Fermilab</a> close in on the Higgs particle, the three aggrieved physicists, known as GHK, feel time is running out to get their work acknowledged. Let&rsquo;s not forget that none is getting any younger.</p> <p>Arguments over who deserves credit for the Higgs mechanism are not going to go away. A Nobel prize will undoubtedly be dished out when (ok, if) the Higgs boson is discovered, since it will be the first direct proof that the mass generating mechanism is right. But Nobels can go to a maximum of three people. That leaves GHK in a precarious position.</p> <p>Guralnik and Hagen believe some European physicists are trying to write them out of history, which if accomplished, would certainly make life easier for the Nobel committee. As a counter-offensive, they and their supporters are lobbying very hard to get their contribution recognised, and with some success. The American Physical Society recently honoured all six physicists in its <a href="http://prl.aps.org/50years/milestones1964">list of milestone papers of 1964</a>, and gave them<a href="http://www.aps.org/programs/honors/prizes/sakurai.cfm"> this year&rsquo;s Sakurai prize</a>. Peter Higgs did not attend the award presentation. It would have been the first time all six met.</p> <p>I thought it might be helpful to lay out the key papers on mass generation, all of which appeared in print within three months of each other in 1964. Here they are:</p> <p>31st August 1964: <a href="http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v13/i9/p321_1">Francois Englert and Robert Brout</a> (full paper, received 26 June)</p> <p>15th September 1964: <a href="http://www.osti.gov/energycitations/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=4009504">Peter Higgs</a> (initial idea, received 27 July)</p> <p>19th October 1964: <a href="http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v13/i16/p508_1">Peter Higgs </a>(full paper, received 31 August, first to highlight signature boson)</p> <p>16th November 1964: <a href="http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v13/i20/p585_1">Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble</a> (full paper, received 12 October)</p> <p>So Englert and Brout were first to publish on mass generation. Peter Higgs was next into print, with a short letter on the idea, though his real contribution came in October, when he was first to point out that the theory came with a signature particle: a massive boson. Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble published last, though their paper was received at the editorial offices of the journal before Higgs&rsquo;s second paper was printed.</p> <p>On the strength of the publication history, Englert and Brout were clearly ahead in describing the idea. Higgs was first to highlight the signature particle that, if found, will convince physicists the theory is right. Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble were close behind, and the dates support their claim that they came up with the theory independently.</p> <p>One point that must irk GHK, is that some physicists say their contribution carries less weight not only because it was published last, but because it references the papers by Englert, Brout and Higgs.</p> <p>Writing in 2009, <a href="http://arxiv.org/abs/0907.3466">Guralnik explains how this came about</a>:</p> <p>&ldquo;<em>As we were literally placing the manuscript in the envelope to be sent to PRL, Kibble came into the office bearing two papers by Higgs and the one by Englert and Brout. These had just arrived in the then very slow and unreliable&hellip;Imperial College mail. We were very surprised and even amazed</em>.&rdquo;</p> <p>The article goes on to say:</p> <p>&ldquo;<em>We unhesitatingly thought we should do the completely honest thing and reference them, as they were clearly relevant with examples, even if not convincing to us. Our paper was finished and typed in final form when we saw these other works and made this decision</em>.&rdquo;</p> <p>And finally, the regret:</p> <p>&ldquo;<em>We were naïve enough to feel that these other articles offered no threat to our insights or to the crediting of our contribution. Nearly 45 years later, it is clear that we were very wrong</em>.&rdquo;</p> <p>By chance, Nature covered the fuss in the same issue they published <a href="http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v466/n7307/full/466689b.html">a letter of mine that explains how the Higgs boson got its name</a>. I finished the letter by pointing out that Higgs is the first to acknowledge the contributions of other physicists. At one conference, he suggested renaming the &ldquo;Higgs mechanism&rdquo; the &ldquo;ABEGHHK&rsquo;tH mechanism&rdquo; after all the people who discovered it or rediscovered it (Phil Anderson, Robert Brout, Francois Englert, Gerald Guralnik, Dick Hagen, Peter Higgs, Tom Kibble, Gerard &lsquo;t Hooft).</p> <p>Phil Anderson at Princeton University <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/physics/people/faculty/philip-w.-anderson/">claims to have &ldquo;invented&rdquo; the Higgs boson in 1962</a> (though the relevant paper was <a href="http://prola.aps.org/abstract/PR/v130/i1/p439_1">published in 1963</a>). Anderson certainly had the right idea, but he did not provide a thorough enough analysis for particle physicists to take his idea too seriously.</p> <p>So if the Higgs boson is found, who should the Nobel prize go to? History suggests the people who actually find it, the experimentalists, will not get a call from Stockholm. That leaves our six theorists. Do GHK miss out because they were pipped at the post? I&rsquo;m glad I don&rsquo;t have to make the decision.</p> <p>The issue raises questions about the Nobel prizes and whether the rules behind them need revising. Modern science is more complex than it was. In some fields, it takes teams of hundreds to run a single experiment. Is an award that can honour the work of three people at most really fit for purpose? Why not give it to teams of researchers? The argument against this is that increasing the number of recipients dilutes the kudos of the prize. That may be the case for the individual, but it takes nothing away from the breakthrough. Perhaps the award should reward progress, not people? Over time, the prestige of being a Nobel laureate will lose its lustre, but think how many scientists might slip quietly into retirement with their reputations intact as a result?</p> http://www.iansample.com:/site/?q=content/higgs-row-and-nobel-reform#comments Higgs boson Higgs particle Large Hadron Collider Nobel prize Tevatron Mon, 09 Aug 2010 20:50:14 +0000 Ian Sample 24 at http://www.iansample.com:/site Welcome to the blog http://www.iansample.com:/site/?q=node/14 <p>Hello! I&#39;ll be using this blog to write about issues relating to my book and scientific developments surrounding the Higgs particle. There are plenty of points I plan to cover, not least the history of references to God in physics - and why some are deemed acceptable and others much less so. It would be great if you were to join in with your own thoughts, and of course I welcome any views on the book.The story of the Higgs particle began long before I was born. In researching the book I visited and interviewed some of the greatest physicists and engineers alive, all of whom had a role to play in this amazing adventure. Massive is their story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.</p> http://www.iansample.com:/site/?q=node/14#comments God particle Higgs boson Higgs particle massive Mon, 14 Jun 2010 11:05:44 +0000 Ian Sample 14 at http://www.iansample.com:/site