Hunting the Higgs
posted by: Tom Loughran
The search for the Higgs boson has been the primary focus of the Large Hadron Collider and its detectors, the largest science experiment in human history. A recent release of data is edging science closer to a discovery, though we’re not there yet. Great progress has been made toward the elimination of possibilities as to what mass the Higgs might have: this process is known as exclusion, something like a certified non-discovery in a certain range of possible values. In other words, particle physicists are now pretty sure (to a 95% confidence level, or greater) what mass the Higgs does not have. And there are some intriguing hints in the data of what mass the Higgs might actually have, though the level of confidence in these hints is far too low yet to support any claim of discovery. So this is an interesting moment of insight into how particle physicists actually make progress: with painstakingly careful analysis of data accumulated slowly over time.
This November 2011 plot of combined data from the CMS and ATLAS experiments shows the current public state of the search for the Higgs boson. The video below shows a glimpse into the deliberations inside the CMS experiment over whether to release combined data of this sort. Take a few minutes to watch. If you are interested in the history of the Higgs search, this blog archive is a good place to begin.