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July 04, 2012

Higgs Boson Confirmed

A round of Nobel Prizes, please. (The good kind, the top-shelf variety.)

For physicists, evidence for a new particle requires a "3-sigma" measurement, "corresponding to a 1-in-740 chance that a random fluke could explain the observations." A claim of a discovery requires a "5-sigma" measurement, "or a 1-in3.5 million shot that the observations are due to chance." 5-sigma is the gold standard. One of the teams using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the ATLAS team, crossed the 5-sigma threshold, while the CMS team almost did with a finding exceeding 4.9-sigma. So we got us a particle.

This is somewhat surprising. People had been expecting a 4-sigma announcement today, so the news is big. Video of the announcement this morning. From Reuters:

Scientists at Europe's CERN research center have found a new subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe, which appears to be the boson imagined and named half a century ago by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs.

"We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature," CERN director general Rolf Heuer told a gathering of scientists and the world's media near Geneva on Wednesday.

"The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle's properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe."

Two independent studies of data produced by smashing proton particles together at CERN's Large Hadron Collider produced a convergent near-certainty on the existence of the new particle.

The Higgs boson proves the existence of the Higgs field--a field that permeates the entire universe and imbues elementary particles with mass through the Higgs mechanism. Here is a good video that explains all that. And more background from an older New York Times article.

In the video embedded below, CERN spokesman Prof. Joe Incandela explains the significance of the discovery and talks about what comes next.


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posted by rdbrewer at 03:57 PM

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