Thursday, March 14, 2013

Higgs Boson Particle Found, Elusive "God Particle" Confirmed

At the Moriond Conference today, the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) presented preliminary new results that further elucidate the particle discovered last year. Having analysed two and a half times more data than was available for the discovery announcement in July, they find that the new particle is looking more and more like a Higgs boson, the particle linked to the mechanism that gives mass to elementary particles. It remains an open question, however, whether this is the Higgs boson of the Standard Model of particle physics, or possibly the lightest of several bosons predicted in some theories that go beyond the Standard Model. Finding the answer to this question will take time.

ATLAS

Credit: CERN

Whether or not it is a Higgs boson is demonstrated by how it interacts with other particles, and its quantum properties. For example, a Higgs boson is postulated to have no spin, and in the Standard Model its parity – a measure of how its mirror image behaves – should be positive. CMS and ATLAS have compared a number of options for the spin-parity of this particle, and these all prefer no spin and positive parity. This, coupled with the measured interactions of the new particle with other particles, strongly indicates that it is a Higgs boson.

“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” says CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela.

"The beautiful new results represent a huge effort by many dedicated people. They point to the new particle having the spin-parity of a Higgs boson as in the Standard Model. We are now well started on the measurement programme in the Higgs sector," says ATLAS spokesperson Dave Charlton.

To determine if this is the Standard Model Higgs boson, the collaborations have, for example, to measure precisely the rate at which the boson decays into other particles and compare the results to the predictions. The detection of the boson is a very rare event – it takes around 1 trillion (1012) proton-proton collisions for each observed event. To characterize all of the decay modes will require much more data from the LHC.


The Higgs boson

In the 1970s, physicists realized that there are very close ties between two of the four fundamental forces – the weak force and the electromagnetic force. The two forces can be described within the same theory, which forms the basis of the Standard Model. This “unification” implies that electricity, magnetism, light and some types of radioactivity are all manifestations of a single underlying force known an the electroweak force.

The basic equations of the unified theory correctly describe the electroweak force and its associated force-carrying particles, namely the photon, and the W and Z bosons, except for a major glitch. All of these particles emerge without a mass. While this is true for the photon, we know that the W and Z have mass, nearly 100 times that of a proton. Fortunately, theorists Robert Brout, Fran├žois Englert and Peter Higgs made a proposal that was to solve this problem. What we now call the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism gives a mass to the W and Z when they interact with an invisible field, now called the “Higgs field”, which pervades the universe.

Large Hadron Collider


Just after the big bang, the Higgs field was zero, but as the universe cooled and the temperature fell below a critical value, the field grew spontaneously so that any particle interacting with it acquired a mass. The more a particle interacts with this field, the heavier it is. Particles like the photon that do not interact with it are left with no mass at all. Like all fundamental fields, the Higgs field has an associated particle – the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is the visible manifestation of the Higgs field, rather like a wave at the surface of the sea.

An elusive particle

A problem for many years has been that no experiment has observed the Higgs boson to confirm the theory. On 4 July 2012, the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider announced they had each observed a new particle in the mass region around 126 GeV. This particle is consistent with the Higgs boson but it will take further work to determine whether or not it is the Higgs boson predicted by the Standard Model. The Higgs boson, as proposed within the Standard Model, is the simplest manifestation of the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism. Other types of Higgs bosons are predicted by other theories that go beyond the Standard Model.

Contacts and sources:CERN

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