Large Hadron Collider
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.
Last week I posted a black and white photograph of three young men and a beautiful Sunbeam Alpine convertible taken in 1961 on the campus of Harvard University.
I wondered if anyone might recognise the men: two are major characters in Massive and were there right at the start of the story that culminates in the hunt for what became known as the Higgs boson.
This week I heard the wonderful news that Massive has been shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton science book prize 2011.
It is no exaggeration to say the announcement made my year and to see it alongside some titles that truly bowled me over is a real thrill.
The Royal Society has posted some information on the shortlist and included some thoughts from the judges on each book. Here's what they said about Massive:
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.
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.
And so to the media scramble at Easter that scientists at the Large Hadron Collider had finally glimpsed the Higgs boson, or at least its fleeting footprint: a flicker of light in the giant Atlas detector.
Things are looking good at Cern. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is back in business and for the first time, there is a real sense that major discoveries are within reach.
There are ways to open a talk and ways not to open a talk and in the summer it wasn’t so clear which I’d picked when I stood up to give a lecture on Massive at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It went something like this. No. It went exactly like this. “I must be the first author to speak at an international book festival who winces at the title of his own book.”
“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.” George Paget Thomson, June 1938.
Speaking in his Nobel lecture, 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.
And so it goes on. The International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP) in Paris came and went, but the Higgs boson is still at large. As expected, rumours that the world's most elusive particle had shown up at the Tevatron collider at Fermilab near Chicago failed to materialise into anything more concrete. Nonetheless, there was good news.