Discovery of the Higgs: big deal?
posted by: Tom Loughran
On July 4, 2012, scientists at CERN from the CMS and Atlas collaborations announced that the evidence they’ve accumulated for the Higgs Boson has finally crossed the “discovery” threshhold of 5 sigma. Huh?
The more you learn about the discovery of the Higgs, the more the news of its discovery seems both old hat and an incredibly big deal. On one hand, the evidence has been long in coming: it better have been, for the $10B investment investment we’ve made in the hunt. So there’s not much new in the discovery announcement. On the other hand, what is unfolding here is an almost unfathomably successful episode in the history of science: a REALLY big deal. Rather than try to sketch the spectrum of reactions myself, I’ll just put down a few contributions that I’ve found useful, below. But first, a small story.
Back in 1999, Notre Dame physicist Randy Ruchti invited a bunch of local physics teachers into a program designed to invite students into particle physics. These invitations–to teachers first, and with them to students–were on the whole pretty well received. Teachers have hung around the Notre Dame QuarkNet Center for 14 years, and brought local students with them…hundreds of them. Seeing these invitations as a pretty good way to conduct science education, these teachers worked together–successfully proposing the Notre Dame extended Research Community (NDeRC) for funding to the National Science Foundation in 2006–to invite hundreds more, not only into particle physics but into many other areas of science and engineering. Working with graduate students and university faculty in university laboratories, these teachers designed experiences to extend the invitation to their students…now approaching tens of thousands of them.
A few handfuls of these local students assembled components now taking data in the CMS detector; others helped design the interface for student analysis of data flowing from CMS; others still are even this summer busy developing components for the next CMS upgrade: these relatively few students and their teachers were closely involved in the particle physics community. But all tens of thousands of them, in a way, owe a major part of their experience of science and engineering to the hunt for the Higgs: no CMS, no NDeRC. So it’s fair to say that the hunt for the Higgs is a pretty big deal around here. We’re better able than many to see the story of the Higgs discovery as our story. It’s entirely common to hear teachers and students talking about the hunt and its success in terms of “we”. And well they should.
So what’s the Higgs? Here’s a useful movie. It’s pretty basic, but it moves fast. Consider watching it twice.
If you want just a little bit more–you can read it slower;)–check out this blog post. Finally, here’s another take on why the discovery of the Higgs is such a big deal, and why it’s such a sad thing that the general public doesn’t appreciate the discovery so well.
I’ve got to say that it’s not quite so sad around here.