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Tag archives: Higgs boson

Explaining CERN, the Higgs and the LHC

By Matin Durrani


How well would you do if someone asked you to explain the Higgs boson or the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN?

If you’re a physicist, you’ll probably find it hard enough. But if you’ve never done any physics in your life, things must surely be trickier still, more so if a film crew from Physics World has shoved a camera up your nose.

These two short videos show the results of a straw poll of randomly selected visitors at last summer’s Bristol International Balloon Fiesta when we asked them to describe the Higgs boson and the LHC.

The reason we were at the fiesta is that we were making a separate film about a project by Bristol University physicist Dave Cussans where school students were measuring cosmic rays during a hot-air balloon flight – it being the centenary of Victor Hess’s discovery of these rays in a balloon flight in central Europe.


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New portrait of Peter Higgs unveiled

Portrait of Peter Higgs

(Photo courtesy: Antonia Reeve)

By Tushna Commissariat

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has just unveiled a portrait of famed physicist Peter Higgs, at the Society’s Fellows’ Summer Reception last week. The painting, which will hang on the walls of the Kelvin Room within the RSE’s premises in Edinburgh, was commissioned to one of Scotland’s leading artists, Victoria Crowe, “to honour the man whose outstanding research was instrumental in [the Higgs boson’s] discovery”. The professor seems distinctly unperturbed by the high-energy proton–proton collision taking place in the top right corner of the painting. I shall leave you to find and discern the other interesting imagery in the painting for yourselves – click on the thumbnail to view a larger picture of the portrait.

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CMS in all its glory

Admiring CMS

Admiring CMS.

By Hamish Johnston at CERN

Today I had the immense good fortune of seeing the insides of the CMS detector at CERN.

The huge detector was pulled open and I could see all the various layers that are used to track the vast numbers of particles that are produced when protons collide at the Large Hadron Collider.

Unlike earlier photos of the detector that were taken when it was being built, the beamline is still intact as it passes through the CMS – a plain black conduit suspended many metres above the floor. You can see the beamline poking out from the centre of the detector in the photo on the right.

Imperial College’s Jim Virdee was our tour guide, and he told us how several military technologies from the former Soviet Union have been put to good use in the detector. These include brass shell casings that were melted down to make components for the detector.

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Spot-on the Standard Model

By Hamish Johnston

“Beyond any reasonable doubt, it is a Higgs boson, and here we examine the extent to which its couplings resemble those of the single Higgs boson of the Standard Model.”

That’s taken from the abstract of a new paper by John Ellis and Tevong You of King’s College London. Ellis, of course, has been associated with CERN for decades and if he says it’s a Higgs that’s good enough for me!


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It’s official, it’s a Higgs

By Hamish Johnston

It seems like only yesterday that the particle-physics blogosphere was on fire with rumours, speculation and even a bit of real information about the hunt for Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

How things have changed since a Higgs-like particle was identified in July last year. Since then, further analysis has revealed that the particle is even more Higgs-like – and today CERN has officially said that the particle is “a Higgs boson”.


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What exactly will be upgraded at the LHC?

Lots of work to be done on the LHC (Courtesy: CERN)

Lots of work to be done on the LHC (Courtesy: CERN)

By Hamish Johnston

It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride for physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. When the collider was first switched on in 2008 it suffered a major explosion when a superconducting connector failed – and was shut down for over a year for repairs. Then in 2010 the LHC began taking data and the excitement about the imminent discovery of the Higgs boson grew and grew – and then on 4 July last year, CERN physicists announced the discovery of a Higgs-like particle.


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Hunting the Higgs

By Michael Banks in Boston

“It looks like a Standard Model Higgs,” remarks Christopher Hill from Ohio State University. “Everything we have measured has strengthened that position.”

Last year, researchers working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN reported they had found a Higgs-like particle with an energy of around 126 GeV.

Yet while the Higgs looks like that predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics, further measurements were needed before researchers could be sure.


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Billy Bragg knows nothing

By Matin Durrani

When I was a PhD student at Cambridge in the early 1990s, I remember going to a concert by singer-songwriter Billy Bragg at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. Riding high at the time on a string of classic songs such as “She’s Got a New Spell”, “Shirley” and “Great Leap Forward”, Bragg had an ear for a great tune and was a great lyricist to boot – who can forget the classic line “How can you lie there and think of England if you don’t even know who’s in the team?”.


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Much ado about the LHC

Rolf-Dieter Heuer talking to journalists at the Royal Society, London.
(Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

By Tushna Commissariat

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has had its share of good and bad press over the past few years. Controversy and rumours abounded when the machine was switched on in September 2008. The mood then turned quickly to disappointment when its magnets failed and finally to euphoria when the first beams collided at 7 TeV in March 2010.

This week, a meeting to discuss the LHC and all things related was held at the Royal Society in London. The “Physics at the High Energy Frontier – the Large Hadron Collider Project” meeting took place on 16–17 May and saw leading lights of the project come together to discuss the collider and its future.

I was at the meeting for the second day, when a press briefing was held where CERN director Rolf-Dieter Heuer, plus Fabiola Gianotti and Guido Tonelli of the ATLAS and CMS experiments respectively, answered all of the questions that the Higgs-hungry reporters could throw at them!

The three speakers described how the collider has “surpassed all expectations” – experimental and computational. Talking about how the LHC is the very essence of global co-operation, Tonelli stressed that “no country could have done it as a stand-alone”. Heuer boasted that every year about 1000 students get their PhDs thanks to the LHC, while just the ATLAS experiment involves about 3000 researchers.

Explaining how things work at the LHC, Tonelli said, “We [experimental scientists] try to test the theory without prejudice. We ask our friends the theorists to come up with something that we can observe.” The collider has already produced the top quark in Europe for the first time and now it is poised to begin a regime of “new physics”, to look for supersymmetry (SUSY), multiple dimensions, matter–antimatter disparity and, of course, the Higgs boson.

The Higgs…or something else?

“We will have an answer to the Shakespeare question for the Higgs – ‘To be or not to be’ – by the end of 2012” declared a confident Heuer. While he did show a great deal of enthusiasm about discovering the Higgs, Heuer was also keen to point out that not finding the particle would be a great result in itself. “Not finding [the Higgs] when it does not exist is a success,” he exclaimed. “If it does not exist, we need to find something else that takes up the job of the Higgs and gives mass to elementary particles,” he added.

The LHC will run until the end of 2012 without any major breaks and Heuer is confident that it will decide the fate of the Higgs by the end of this run. “Physics will not be the same after 2012.” declared Tonelli. “It will change the view of the world.”

Not amused

One of the first questions, asked by BBC reporter Pallab Ghosh, was about the recent ”leak” of an unconfirmed sighting of the Higgs by ATLAS. A sighting that was later denied by a paper released by the ATLAS team and in interviews with physicists on various media channels.

“Unfortunately we live in a world of WikiLeaks, so it leaked!” said a grinning Gianotti. On a more serious note, she explained that such leaked results have not undergone the scientific scrutiny that is necessary, and hence are almost always insubstantial.

“The CERN management was not amused by the leak” said Heuer. He went on to ask journalists not to believe leaked results in the future. “Don’t trust it on first sight” he said. Although Heuer’s displeasure was clear, the leak did put the LHC back in the public eye after a few quiet months. Also, the media interest did provide the public with a rare insight into the vetting process that all scientific discoveries undergo. So perhaps the CERN management should lighten up and enjoy the renewed interest in the LHC!

Rolf-Dieter Heuer giving a talk about the future of the LHC at the Royal Society, London. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Bumps and jumps

When asked about the Higgs-like ‘bumps’ seen at other experiments like the Tevatron and CERN’s Large Electron Positron Collider (LEP) the panel had mixed replies. The Tevatron bump was dismissed by Gianotti and Tonelli, as they both explained that it was too small, statistically speaking, and was only seen by one of the Tevatron’s two detectors. Would the LHC have a look for the Tevatron signal? “No”, was their reply.

However, “interesting events” seen at 115 GeV by the LEP just before its closure in 2000 are of interest to them. While Heuer did say that it is very difficult to determine if it was anything more than a “hint”, the LHC will be looking for the Higgs at that energy soon.


Colliding linearly

The International Liner Collider – a possible successor to the LHC – is another project that Heuer is excited about. He feels that CERN, with the LEP and now the LHC under its belt, would be the perfect host for the collider. “I think CERN has huge potential, not only on the human side, but on its experience side. We have all the instruments. So I see CERN in a very good position.” he said.

But what about the money? “If you have an excellent science case, you will get the money. Don’t ask for the money until you have the science figured out.” he said. He pointed out that, compared to the US, in Europe the politics of funding are more stable and for that reason CERN would be a better host.

Right: prototype microwave cavity for the ILC, illuminated for a “Science Night” in Hamburg. (Courtesy: DESY)

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Things that go bump in the night

By Tushna Commissariat

Looks like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN particle physics lab had an interesting few days last week, just before everybody left for Easter, and the Internet is now abuzz with rumours of an impending discovery.

But before we get into any of the highly interesting and debatable stuff, let’s look at one thing that has definitely happened at the LHC.

Around midnight on Friday 22 April, the LHC set a new world record for beam intensity when it collided beams with a luminosity of 4.67 × 1032 cm–2s–1. This was significantly more than the previous luminosity record of 4.024 × 1032 cm–2s–1 held by the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Tevatron collider in 2010.

This new beam intensity was achieved after two weeks of planning and readying the collider. The machine is now moving into a phase of continuous physics scheduled to last until the end of the year when, after a short technical stop, the machine will resume running for 2012.

“Beam intensity is key to the success of the LHC, so this is a very important step,” said CERN director Rolf-Dieter Heuer in a statement. “Higher intensity means more data, and more data means greater discovery potential.”

But didn’t I read all about some record being broken by the LHC last year, you ask? Yes, but that was the LHC accelerating its proton beams to 3.5 TeV each, leading to later collisions at 7 TeV. Now it is the beam intensity or the “luminosity” that is record breaking. Luminosity gives a measure of how many collisions are happening in a particle accelerator. So the higher the luminosity, the more particles are likely to collide which is necessary while looking for rare particles like the infamous Higgs boson.

“There’s a great deal of excitement at CERN today,” said CERN’s director for research and scientific computing, Sergio Bertolucci, “and a tangible feeling that we’re on the threshold of new discovery.”

Well, it looks like Bertolucci spoke a tad too soon, as on the same day a leaked memo posted by an anonymous commenter on mathematician Peter Woit’s blog, claimed that certain researchers at the ATLAS experiment at CERN had seen firm evidence for the Higgs particle in recent data.

The memo, though not official by any means, was authored by four ATLAS members who claimed to have seen an excess number of photons produced at energy of 115 GeV that could be caused by the decay of the Higgs particle into photons.

Surprisingly, only a few websites and blogs mentioned the news for the first day or so, before slowly more people seemed to notice this juicy story of physics, Higgs and betrayal!

On 25 April, Nature reported on its blog, an official statement from ATLAS spokeswoman Fabiola Gianotti. Gianotti said “Only official ATLAS results, i.e. results that have undergone all the necessary scientific checks by the collaboration, should be taken seriously.” She went on to say that signals of the kind reported in the memo show up often during data analysis and are later falsified after more detailed scrutiny.

But the damage had already been done as physicists and others began to comment on the legitimacy of the claim made in the memo and the ethics of such an internal memo being posted and talked about online.

As people began to look deeper into the memo, interesting facts began to creep up.

Tommaso Dorigo, from the University of Padova in Italy wrote an initial post on his blog A Quantum Diaries Survivor that turned into a debate and eventually a bet! His post was sceptical from the start and he gave his reasons for why he was sure it as nothing more than a blip in the data, then went on to explain in more detail what other data already exists.

After that, a regular reader of his blog pointed out that the authors of the ATLAS study are actually physicists from Wisconsin, and include a Professor Wu, “who was among those less happy of the decommissioning of LEP [the Large Electron-Positron Collider] at the time when they were claiming a possible Higgs signal at 115 GeV. So maybe these guys have been looking for some confirmation of the 115 GeV Higgs all along”.

Woit too was quick to distance himself from the memo saying that “it should be made clear that, while members of ATLAS work here at Columbia, I have no connection at all to them, and they had nothing to do with this. The source of the abstract posted here anonymously as a comment is completely unknown to me.”

As more people debated and commented over the memo, Dorigo came back to say that he would bet anyone who “has a name and a reputation in particle physics (this is a necessary specification, because I need to be sure that the person taking the bet will honour it) that the signal is not due to Higgs boson decays” and then updated that comment by saying that if he is wrong he would pay $1000 but that if he is right he would be given only $500.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 conducted an interview with Jon Butterworth, a particle physics professor at University College London, who also works at ATLAS. He went on to say the same thing; that nothing would be definitive until it was scrutinized by CERN officially (look above).

So at the end of the day, it looks like the world is going to have to wait a while longer before Higgs boson gets its official post in the Standard Model hall of fame.

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