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Fermilab Set to Reveal “Interesting” Higgs Boson Results

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


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VFermilab at NightANCOUVER—Last fall, the Tevatron accelerator at Fermilab in Illinois shut down for good. The long-running accelerator had been eclipsed by the vastly more powerful Large Hadron Collider outside of Geneva, Switzerland, which since 2010 has been generating data at an impressive rate. The move appeared to quash any hopes that Fermilab had of discovering the Higgs boson, the last great known unknown of modern particle physics.

Yet according to Rob Roser, the leader of the CDF experiment at the Tevatron, we shouldn’t count Fermilab out quite yet. Though the machine is no longer generating data, physicists have not had time to properly analyze all the data that has been collected thus far.  Today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Roser announced that Fermilab will reveal its final Higgs results in March. “We will be able to say something interesting,” he said, “though whether it is that we don’t see it or we do see it remains to be seen.”

Asked to clarify, Roser said that if the Higgs has a mass of around 125 gigaelectron volts—the mass that recent LHC results seem to indicate is most likely—the Tevatron would be able to identify the Higgs with “three-sigma” certainty. This is a statistical term that indicates the finding only has a tenth of a percent chance of being due to a random statistical fluctuation. Such a result would still fall short of being considered a “discovery,” however, as the field of particle physics has adopted the more stringent five-sigma standard—a one-in-a-million chance.

Another soon-to-come announcement from Fermilab will also illuminate the hunt for the Higgs. On February 23, the CDF experiment will announce a new, more precise result for the mass of the W boson. “And if you know the mass of the W and the top [quark],” said Roser, “you will know the Higgs mass perfectly.” Even if the Tevatron can’t lay claim to discovering the Higgs, its last revelations will show the rest of the world where to look.

Image courtesy of Fermilab / Reidar Hahn

About the Author: Michael Moyer is the editor in charge of space and physics coverage at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @mmoyr.

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





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  1. 1. jctyler 11:34 pm 02/17/2012

    “Roser said that IF…THEN… grandmother… moustache… grandfather”

    Not good enough, here’s why: LHC will go one better early April with a more elegantly worded hypothesis; already convinced to clinch next year’s Hugo.

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  2. 2. Rev.Corvette 8:57 am 02/18/2012

    Welcome to “Tabloid Science”. You to quote leading particle physicist Rob Roser on discovering the Higgs boson particle as saying “though whether it is that we don’t see it or we do see it remains to be seen”… that is a mouth-full!
    I did not expect such “poetry” from the researchers at Tevatron Or LHC, but maybe I should. After all if there was any true progress toward understanding the last great known unknown of modern particle physics it would be headline news.
    Poetry about Spooky Stuff that happens in the Dark is sometimes nice. Thank you Scientific American for another interesting article.

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  3. 3. ming_on_mongo 12:21 pm 02/18/2012

    Any proof of the existence of the Higg’s Boson should supposedly qualify as “proof” of the so-called “many worlds” theory of quantum physics, aka the notion that “there are no rules, ‘cuz everything’s possible and simply occurs in some other parallel universe”. Which BTW, seems like such a fundamentally lazy theory, that I wouldn’t hold my breathe waiting for Fermilab’s “interesting” announcement!

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  4. 4. Spiritbro77 2:02 pm 02/18/2012

    Ah, another example of America turning it’s back on Science. We would be enjoying results coming from the SCSC in Texas but Congress cut the project. After spending billions already of course. We no longer have the ability to put a man in space, Russia and China now lead the way there. While we are satisfied to watch as others blaze the trail in Science. I weep for the future of this once great nation.

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  5. 5. lakero 4:10 pm 02/18/2012

    “…the field of particle physics has adopted the more stringent five-sigma standard—a one-in-a-million chance.”
    Isn’t 5s=10^-5 – ie, one-in-100k?

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  6. 6. username01 4:45 pm 02/18/2012

    at last , physists, finally understanding , that to see this particle, is a holistic attempt , to back up the math. fermilab, and cern, will have to announce something or anything, otherwise it becomes ‘crack pottery’experiment.all is not lost comes the ‘polsun phenomena’. maybe more than cracked pots, a different son light.

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  7. 7. janard 6:55 pm 02/18/2012

    I agree 100% with Spiritbro77. Without going into conspiracy theories, I can say that all patriotic, Scientific minded Americans should write to President to build another collider 100% as large as the LHC , since even a. LHC is proving to be totally inadequate b. It is a shame to let others to dominate us and c.It makes very poor economic and military sense to let others make ground breaking research in Physics.

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  8. 8. LarryW 10:01 pm 02/18/2012

    To lakero. 5 sigma means 5 standard deviations from the mean, assuming normal random variable.

    1 sigma outside = 1/3.151 (31.7%)
    2 sigma outside = 1/21.978 (4.55%)
    3 sigma outside = 1/370.398 (.270%)
    4 sigma outside = 1/15,787 (.006%)
    5 sigma outside = 1/1,744,278 (.000057%)

    So, yes, one in a million at most.

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  9. 9. ArturiaLocke 6:31 pm 02/21/2012

    janard: I agree with you 200%. It is shameful that Americans are more worried about pop culture than advances in STEM. We are a shadow of the nation we were in the 50s and 60s, xenophobia and the Red Scare notwithstanding. Our political will has turned inwards to selfishness & a culture of greed caused by supply side economics dominating the political sphere. It is time to focus on long term investments in America’s future like a particle accelerator that can rival the LHC, which will advance science, create more interest in particle physics, and hopefully create another spectacle for the masses to focus on.

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  10. 10. HansVanLeunen 10:28 am 02/22/2012

    Denying the existence of valid Higgsless models of fundamental physics is a non-scientific attitude.
    Hardly anybody is talking about these alternatives. Still it is quite possible to devise a valid Higgsless theory.
    For example the Hilbert Book Model is a simple Higgsless model of fundamental physics that is strictly based on the axioms of traditional quantum logic and that explains the existence of all known elementary particles and waves that are contained in the standard model. Further it explains why massive elementary particles cause curvature and suffer inertia.
    See:
    http://www.crypts-of-physics.eu/ConciseHilbertBookModel.pdf and http://www.crypts-of-physics.eu/Hilbert_Book_Model.pdf

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  11. 11. jnanivn 9:03 pm 02/23/2012

    Sub: Identity crisis- Cosmology needs best of brains trust
    Wisdom must prevail in times of need. LHC and Particle physics have many inherent and apparent self-contradictions- moving away from Nature and philosophy.
    The Science in philosophy- Origins Vedas – help to identify beyond Milky-way Galactic Plane. The Philosophy of science needs to open frontiers – East West Interaction with a purpose to interlinks. Space Cosmology vedas interlinks need best of scientific brains to unravel mysterious nature of the Universe.
    It is the necessity-demand- curiosity- sustain the spirit of Excellence.Vidyardhi Nanduri -see Vidyardhi Cosmology

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