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Large Hadron Collider Turns Up the Heat in Higgs Hunt

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The aftermath of a particle collision at the LHC that included debris consistent with a Higgs boson. Credit: CERN

Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, already the most powerful particle collider in history—and by a wide margin at that—is about to break its own record.

The collider outside Geneva will run at an energy of 4 trillion electron-volts (TeV) in 2012, up from 3.5 TeV in 2011, CERN announced February 13. (CERN is the European physics laboratory that operates the LHC.) The collider accelerates beams of protons to fantastic energies before smashing them together head-on. Those collisions take place inside colossal detectors that can register short-lived particles in the debris that are rare in everyday, low-energy life. With the increased energy of the beam and continued improvements in luminosity (the rate of collisions), LHC scientists are aiming to take three times as much collision data this year as was captured in 2011.

In the particle hunt, the most prized quarry is the elusive Higgs boson, a massive particle whose existence springs naturally from the leading explanation for why particles have mass. The LHC has already narrowed the window where the Higgs might be hiding, and in December project scientists announced that they had caught a tantalizing, preliminary and ultimately inconclusive whiff of the particle. When the collider starts back up in March after its annual winter shutdown, it will begin the run that ought to put to rest any questions about the existence of the Higgs. The run will end in November, when the LHC shuts down for 20 months while CERN beefs up the machine for even higher-energy running, approaching the collider’s maximum energy of 7 TeV, in late 2014 or 2015.

“By the time the LHC goes into its first long stop at the end of this year, we will either know that a Higgs particle exists or have ruled out the existence of a Standard Model Higgs,” Sergio Bertolucci, CERN’s research director, said in a prepared statement.

If all goes according to plan, LHC physicists will have an exciting new discovery to celebrate—and, of course, to ponder the implications of—during the long layoff.

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. SGFoxe 11:01 pm 02/13/2012

    Like how do you know the Higgs Boson is a PARTICLE? I think it is a dimension,
    To get all quantum on your derriere — no one has bothered to rigorously define time … while I can’t do the math, I can understand it
    Time is a function of the Terrestial Axis of Rotation. Time is therefore GEOCENTRIC. It is a dimension particular to earth — other cosmic spinning bodies have their own temporal molecules, while ours is made up of earth spin which established the evening and morning of the First Day, its barycentric revolution with the moon which establish the natural month, the revolution about the sun == the year … and the 26K precessional wibble/wobble. The cesium atom is a compromise, and who says it would vibe otherwise in a temporal system say on mars or the some planet three galaxies to the ssw? making it a interdimensional fractal of the basic terrestial cycles and the compound frequencies of same

    Capiche?

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  2. 2. z537815 7:08 am 02/14/2012

    There’s one thing that’s always bugged me about the Higgs. If it indeed gives mass to other particles and if such another particle has mass everywhere it goes (after all, all particles with mass don’t suddenly lose this mass, do they?), then why is it so difficult to actually find the Higgs? Every cubic whatever in space should be awash with Higgs-particles!

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  3. 3. Luis Gonzalez-Mestres 9:34 am 02/14/2012

    Let us hope that the Higgs boson has been found. Another important point in connection with standard quantum field theory (QFT) would be to check as much as possible the validity of perturbative QFT at high energy.

    Perturbative QFT can be influenced at high energy by new physics generated at the Planck scale or even beyond, including new ultimate constituents of matter or a possible spinorial space-time as suggested in my HEP 2011 contribution “Pre-Big Bang, vacuum and noncyclic cosmologies”, already available with the pre-published Proceedings (PoS) at the address :

    http://pos.sissa.it/archive/conferences/134/479/EPS-HEP2011_479.pdf

    Best regards
    Luis Gonzalez-Mestres
    CNRS, France

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  4. 4. jtdwyer 8:09 pm 02/14/2012

    z537815 – I’m just a lay person, but as I understand it’s not nearly as simple as it’s often portrayed. Please see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_mechanism

    “The simplest implementation of the mechanism adds an extra Higgs field to the gauge theory. The spontaneous symmetry breaking of the underlying local symmetry triggers conversion of components of this Higgs field to Goldstone bosons which interact with (at least some of) the other fields in the theory, so as to produce mass terms for (at least some of) the gauge bosons. This mechanism may also leave behind elementary scalar (spin-0) particles, known as Higgs bosons.”

    Higgs bosons are thought to be extremely unstable, short-lived particles.

    Also, I think that existing particles are not continuously and dynamically imparted with mass: that occurs when they are initially created. As I understand all of the quarks composing nucleons and I think most if not all electrons were produced in the initial stages of the big bang. As such, I think that the LHC is attempting to produce Higgs bosons as residue of the destructive decomposition of neutrons. Even then, as I understand, the Higgs boson is thought to be only indirectly detectable from its own residue…

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