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What Happens If We Find the Higgs Particle–or If We Don’t?

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


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With instruments offering “tantalizing hints” in support of the Higgs boson, the elementary particle thought to endow matter with mass, we stand at a singular moment in time for physics. Will we get sufficient evidence to confirm the existence of the Higgs, thus helping to complete the decades-old Standard Model? Will science have to go back to the drawing board? Or something in between? On April 18, 2012, I participated in a panel at Columbia University to probe such mysteries, called “What If We Find the Higgs Particle and What If We Don’t?

My fellow panelists were Michael Tuts, professor of physics at Columbia and the U.S. ATLAS Operations Program Manager at the Large Hadron Collider, CERN Laboratory, Geneva; Brian Greene, professor of mathematics and physics at Columbia and reporter Dennis Overbye of the New York Times. Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia, introduced us, and Amber Miller, dean of science, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and professor of physics for Columbia, moderated. The talk was part of a series called the World Leaders Forum.

Here is the introduction.

And here is the panel discussion.

Mariette DiChristina About the Author: Editor in Chief, Mariette DiChristina, oversees Scientific American, ScientificAmerican.com, Scientific American MIND and all newsstand special editions. Follow on Twitter @mdichristina.

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





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  1. 1. jtdwyer 6:29 pm 04/20/2012

    I don’t know anything about it, either, but as I understand particle collider detectors will not direct detect any Higgs particles, but their expected decay products.

    It would seem that even if such residue should indicate that Higgs particles ‘had been there’, this would be scant evidence for the complete Higgs mechanism. What is the Higgs field, or doesn’t that matter?

    Alternatively, I suggest that particles acquired mass as a function of the prevailing energy density of the universe at the moment particles condensed. For example, as I understand nucleons are composed of massive quarks (and gluons) that condensed in the very early universe, when universal energy density was exceedingly high…

    While I can’t experimentally test this hypothesis, no test for the presence of any Higgs Field has been devised, much less conducted, has it?

    Link to this
  2. 2. eleaticus 11:57 pm 04/22/2012

    Perhaps satisfying my curiousity will aid jtdwyer:

    What are the presumed characteristics of the other particles that determine their differential masses?

    Thanks.

    Link to this
  3. 3. jtdwyer 2:47 am 04/23/2012

    eleaticus – I’m unsure, but if you’re asking me, the mass allocated to varying particles is determined by the energy density of environment into which they were emitted. The most dense conditions existed in the very early universe and generally diminished over time. The most common elementary particle emitted into the more recent conditions of the universe are zero rest mass photons.

    I suspect that the inverse relationship between mass and propagation momentum works both ways – elementary particle that could not propagate due to the density of their emission environment were forced to reconfigure their kinetic emission energy into potential mass energy. In other words, linearly directed propagation energy and mass energy are essentially the same, but mass is reconfigured such that it envelops the particle, directed inward, towards the particle, self opposing its own expression. Photons are in effect perpetually self-propagating; atomic electrons typically propagate around a nucleus or to another nearby atom; quarks only jiggle…

    In this scenario, mass is generally imparted to particles upon their emission by the temporally varying energy density of the vacuum. When was the last time a quark was emitted?

    Link to this
  4. 4. jctyler 5:47 am 04/23/2012

    What happens if?

    a) Hawking would lose 100 bucks (fat chance; mass acquisition will in time be shown to be a process involving a number of cooperating particles; Hawking wins his bet)

    b) it would prove that final theories can be ugly as hell (another fat chance; as likely as a tasteless and obese transvestite becoming Miss Universe; an ugly theory is never thought through)

    Link to this
  5. 5. zeke22 10:02 pm 04/23/2012

    The mass of any elementary particle is determined by the strength of its coupling to the Higgs boson – nothing to do with the “energy density of the environment.”

    Look at the blog “Not Even Wrong” for info on the latest findings from the LHC – the Higgs seems to be showing up (as you say, in the energy of its decay products!).

    Link to this
  6. 6. trafficproducts 11:26 pm 04/23/2012

    I don’t know what this is, is that is really a terrible thing
    http://www.traffic-products.net

    Link to this
  7. 7. jctyler 4:45 am 04/25/2012

    To the author of this blog:

    with publishing a blog comes the responsibility to administer the comments by readers.

    Do you ever check those comments? Apparently not or you would long since have deleted that blog spam idiocy from that internet polluter “trafficproducts”.

    But if as it seems you are not interested in the comments you trigger, why not disable commenting at all?

    Link to this
  8. 8. respondplease 4:17 pm 06/26/2012

    The Higgs Particle does not exist. The particle is actually a field that interacts with all particles in-relation to themselves and the electromagnetism of the Earth while on Earth. When away from Earths gravity, objects have the weight ratio to particle mass. The particle mass that gives weight on Earth is this field that gives things its structure. In this field, is the answers to the Universe. We and all particles are the hardware and this field is the software. Disrupt this field on Earth and you would achieve almost weightlessness. With harmonics and or a type of electromagnetic or frequency change we could do all sorts of things.

    Link to this
  9. 9. donhill 9:20 pm 06/29/2012

    The smallest bits of matter penetrate everything in the universe and carry data from all force sources. They will never be seen and they will show their presence by the transfer of force at great and miniscule distances. They are in every miniscule bit of space and ALL (100%) manner of matter of the Universe ALL forces are inherent in every bit of matter and transfer data by physical contact
    THIRD MILLENNIUM AETHER by Don Hill
    He who does not update the knowledge and thinking of great minds of the past, without standing on their shoulders to outdo them, will find the truth. If wrong, he will not have so far to fall.

    Link to this
  10. 10. jctyler 5:11 pm 07/2/2012

    And come this 4th of July CERN will announce that it is this time very, very, very, very close to discovering the Higgs, given a few more millions, while on a sidenote it will announce the eminently “surprising” discovery of other hitherto unknown particles which would indicate that there are elements smaller than anything previously thought out there. Whereas in fact these elementary particles are simply a continuation of the usual but on a smaller level. (But the physicists concerned here of course know better then to even remotely consider something like fractals in physics.) And when we are one day capable of checking even smaller levels we will eventually find even smaller elements. So what else is new except sand in the eyes of those wo pay for this and spiting those whose funding suffers from the waste pumped into ugly theories? It’s not astonishing that people don’t believe in climate science when they are being continuously fooled by mainstream media-hogging self-delusional scientists from other fields.

    Link to this
  11. 11. jack.123 6:01 pm 07/13/2012

    Mass is just an illusion,it is all energy.What we perceive as mass is in fact varius packets or groups of energy.The Higgs field is what determines the amount of mass in each pocket,and the behaviour of that particle.I think it is very similar to how electrons control the behavior of atoms in chemistry.This is just a vague description of what Higgs is and might be doing,not to be taken literary.

    Link to this

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