I hope we don’t find the Higgs

As I said yesterday, there are rumours that the Higgs particle may have already been spotted at the Tevatron thus rendering LHC at CERN a tad redundant, but what is the Higgs anyway?

Basically the Higgs particle is the last particle predicted by the Standard Model. The Standard Model being the particle physics theory that describes the interactions between all of the particles that make up matter (it doesn’t describe gravitational interaction, but does describe Electromagnetism, the Weak force and the Strong force).

The Standard Model is both wildly successful and rather boring; it explains with great accuracy the result of every particle physics experiment in the last fifty years, yet if true it predicts we are not going to discover very much else. We know the Standard Model is incomplete specifically because it does not include a description of gravity, however it does predict that while not complete, it is ‘good enough’ until you reach close to the Planck energy – around two billion joules per particle (an insane amount of energy).

Interestingness in particle physics scales with energy, typically the more interesting discoveries happen at higher and higher energies; energy scales with accelerator size – using current technology you’d need to build a particle accelerator of galactic proportions to reach the Planck energy.

If however the Higgs particle isn’t discovered at the Tevatron or CERN, then things get interesting. It would show that there must be physics beyond that explained by the Standard Model and for good reasons, this interesting physics must occur at energies closer to current day experiments than the Standard Model would have you think. Hopefully this would point the way towards a better description of the way the universe is constructed.

Not discovering the Higgs could well be one of the most important discoveries of the 21st century.

Something in the air…

In another life I was a particle physicist, or rather I become an engineer involved in the ATLAS detector at the LHC Cern. Things change, projects carry on and I quit to blow things up with big lasers.

One of the primary stated aims of the LHC is to find the Higgs particle before any one else, or even better – rule out all possibility of a Higgs type particle. It now seems that LHC will not switch on until early next year, giving its sole competitor, the Tevatron, a chance to make the Higgs discovery (it can’t disprove the Higgs, it is incapable of covering the total possible energy range of the Higgs).

Reports tricked in last summer that an anomalous peak in the data had been seen that could point to possible Higgs discovery. This was later attributed to a statistical fluctuation. Now there are rumours that something more significant has been seen. Of course, no one from the Tevatron teams is saying anything official until the results are published in a journal.

Tevatron actually seeing a Higgs would really steal LHC’s thunder. LHC would go from discovery to stamp collecting – taking lots of data to pin down the details. Personally I rather hope neither machine sees a Higgs particle; then things get really interesting.

Tomorrow: A bit about the standard model and why I think not finding the Higgs is much more interesting than finding it.