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Higgs Boson May Be Within Sight

December 16, 2011 - 3:48pm


Fermilab scientist Don Lincoln describes the concept of how the search for the Higgs boson is accomplished and also includes a brief explanation of the latest data revealed at CERN on Dec. 13.

These are exciting times in the world of particle physics.

Having completed two new experiments at the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, physicists from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) should know by March whether the famous missing piece of the physics puzzle -- the Higgs boson -- exists or not.

Definitive proof in either direction will be enough for physicists to know if their theoretical structure of all matter in the universe, also known as “the Standard Model,” is sound or whether it’s back to the drawing board.

Physicists at Tuesday’s press conference alluded to detecting the so-called God particle.

When researchers fire two lead ions at each other at nearly the speed of light, the ATLAS and CMS particle detectors record the sub-atomic material flying away from the collision.

There's too much data from each collision to simply point out the elusive Higgs Boson. As reported in 2008, the LHC computing grid already produces 15 petabytes, or 15 million gigabytes, of data from collisions each year. Instead, physicists look at particles of a certain mass that fly away from the collision. With each experiment, CERN researchers eliminate another mass range.

In August, researchers excluded the existence of the Higgs in the mass region 145 to 466 GeV. The latest experiment's main conclusion is that the Standard Model Higgs boson, if it exists, is most likely to have a mass constrained to the range 116 to 130 GeV by the ATLAS experiment, and 115 to 127 GeV by CMS. 

In all, more than 1,600 scientists, students, engineers, and technicians from more than 90 U.S. universities and five U.S. national laboratories are taking part in the CMS and ATLAS experiments, the vast majority via an ultra-high speed broadband network that delivers their data to researchers at universities and national laboratories across the nation.

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory is the host laboratory for the U.S. contingent on the CMS experiment, while Brookhaven National Laboratory hosts the U.S. ATLAS collaboration. Over the coming months, both the CMS and ATLAS experiments will focus on refining their analyses in time for the winter particle physics conferences in March.

Check out Fermi Lab’s Don Lincoln explain what exactly the existence, or non-existence, of the Higgs boson would prove and the latest update on CERN's search for the elusive particle.