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Is the discovery of a Higgs-like particle the physics breakthrough of 2012?

By James Dacey

Facebook poll

Today, Physics World unveiled its Breakthrough of the Year and you may not be entirely surprised to learn that the award has gone to the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at CERN for their joint discovery of a Higgs-like particle at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). You can read about our choice in this article.

A predictable result? Yes, clearly. But part of our mission at Physics World is to take a bird’s-eye view of physics, covering all areas of the field: the big and the small, the theoretical and the applied. From our perspective, it appears that the most significant and dramatic developments in physics this year have taken place at the LHC.

But what do you think? All signs so far suggest that the particle discovered at the LHC is a Higgs boson with the properties described by the Standard Model of particle physics. If this is the case, then should we view this as a “physics breakthrough” at all? Would it not have brought a significantly greater advance in our understanding of the physical world had the Higgs not showed up at the LHC? Perhaps we should look at the LHC as more of an engineering triumph – for building a machine so complex and precise that appears to have verified some brilliant physics that was mooted more than half a century ago.

One could also argue that CERN is getting a heck of a lot of credit for something that would not have been possible without the excellent work that was done at Fermilab’s now-retired Tevatron accelerator.

As with many awards, there is naturally an element of subjectivity in its judging, and it is always difficult to single out winning individuals and groups above others. There were plenty of other significant physics breakthroughs this year, which we have recognized as highly commended. Perhaps you feel one of these should have pipped the Higgs discovery to the top spot? Let us know what you think by taking part in last Facebook poll of the year:

Is the discovery of a Higgs-like particle the physics breakthrough of 2012?

No (please suggest an alternative in a comment)

To place your vote, visit our Facebook page.

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