Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Higgs (of course)

The week's hot news (beyond the literal heat in this part of the world) is the discovery of a "Higgs Boson-like particle" by two research teams at CERN. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was built for Higgs hunting more than for any other purpose.

A Higgs (in theory) falls apart
I've mentioned the hunt for the Higgs Boson on many occasions (IIRC, back to "Thanksgiving appetizers" where I put a Higgs discovery on my 2009 holiday wish list).

Most regular readers of this blog will already have read and seen many of the reports. (If you've been at the beach, sans iPad, beating the heat, here are a couple. From Slate, via physicist Lawrence Krauss, "A Quantum Leap: The discovery of the Higgs boson particle puts our understanding of nature on a new firm footing." And from The Wall Street Journal, "How to Be Sure You've Found a Higgs Boson.")

These are two of the more careful, thoughtful pieces I've seen. Krauss is in the minority even to hint at the sad fact this discovery could have come much sooner -- and been a triumph of American science -- if Congress hadn't killed off the Superconducting Super Collider in 1993.

I've been less than enthusiastic about most news coverage. Such as:

Erroneous assertions that physicists call the Higgs "The God Particle." That's a term only publishers love.

Or gross oversimplifications that physicists track back through the particle debris to see the Higgs itself. They see only the debris. Where neutrinos (weakly interacting with matter, most escaping the detector unscathed) are involved, not even that. To derive the properties of the particle at the start of the multistage decay process is an exceedingly painstaking mathematical and physical process.

 Nor is "see" the correct verb for the detection that is done.

Or neglecting to mention that most mass in the universe comes not from the Higgs Field, but from the (nuclear) Strong Force, as explained by physicist and blogger Axel Maas in his post "Mass from the strong force."

All that said ... the Higgs has (almost certainly) been found. If it turns out that the new particle isn't the Higgs of the Standard Model, or that it's more than the Higgs of the Standard Model, that will prove to be yet more newsworthy.

Important enough to make me forget the heat outside :-)

(And in a side/personal note ... this is the 256th post at SF and Nonsense. Ex-programmer that I am, powers of two amuse me.)

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