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Andrew Zimmerman Jones

It's the Higgs We Have ... But Is It the Higgs We Need?

By March 16, 2013

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Getting straight information about the Higgs boson can be hard work. When Time magazine nominated the Higgs boson their "Person of the Year," each sentence in the nomination paragraph contained serious factual errors. (Some of these are errors I've been guilty of, as well, such as calling physicist Peter Higgs a Scottish physicist, even though he was born in England, not Scotland. Sorry for that slip, Dr. Higgs.)

But even in more meaningful ways, the science related to the Higgs boson can be confusing. For example, it's common to say that the Higgs boson is what gives particles mass, but this claim is misleading in many ways. For one thing, it's really the Higgs field that gives the mass, through a process called "the Higgs mechanism." The Higgs boson itself is a rare manifestation of this field as a particle, which only shows up (and can be detected) when a lot of energy is pumped into the field ... such as in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

And the Higgs isn't even needed to explain all of the mass - or even most of the mass - in our universe. Quarks and the particles made up from them - protons and neutrons, for example - all have mass even without incorporating the Higgs mechanism. The masses explained by the Higgs mechanism are the relatively small amount of mass possessed by the W Boson and Z Boson.

The basic (or garden-variety) Higgs boson completes the Standard Model of particle physics by explaining where these masses come from ... and evidence released this week has made it clear that the particle announced last summer by researchers at CERN probably fits the bill. But many theoretical physicists had been hoping for a bit more, because if the LHC had discovered multiple versions of the Higgs boson, it would have provided evidence that would have supported the theoretical physics concept of supersymmetry. This weeks' announcement, which includes analysis of about two and a half times more data than what was available last summer, gives no clear evidence of supersymmetry.

For a while now, there has been talk within the physics community about the need to look for new ideas. The more-standard-than-hoped Higgs leaves scientists in the position of having to really consider abandoning the notions at the heart of supersymmetry, which has been a cornerstone of theoretical physics models beyond the Standard Model for over a quarter century. The failure to actually demonstrate supersymmetry is a serious problem, as suggested in Lee Smolin's 2007 book The Trouble with Physics, but has more recently been taken up by other physicists who are considering what could take supersymmetry's place if the evidence found at the Large Hadron Collider doesn't fit with that model. Young physicists have to really consider whether they want to continue investigating supersymmetry or begin trying to find whole new directions to answer the outstanding great problems in theoretical physics.

More results may be a while in coming. The Large Hadron Collider has shut down for a couple of years, set to go back online in 2015. At that point, it'll come back online with enhancements to its power and, potentially, any Higgs results that would extend beyond the "garden-variety Higgs" might show up at that time, although proving conclusively that this is the Higgs boson will take a few years' worth of data collection.

Even with the data that exists, though, new areas of research are coming to light. Plugging the existing data into the laws of physics as we understand them resulted in a result, announced by a Fermilab scientist last month, that our universe might be unstable. If these results are true, our universe will still have billions of years ... but then will be wiped out as it decays into a more stable alternate universe.

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March 16, 2013 at 5:00 pm
(1) Kevin Foster says:

This is a great article. I too was under many misapprehensions regarding the Higgs boson due to my reading of news articles. Thanks for correcting some of the misinformation.

What a shame that our media is promulgating ignorance and calling it fact. They never seem to correct or apologize for their errors.

Time magazine’s research and writing on the boson is absolutely inexcusable, despicable really by any journalist standard. Perhaps it’s for the best that the publication will soon cease to exist.

March 16, 2013 at 5:39 pm
(2) Andrew Jones says:

its back to the future is what we need…
it was revealed to me…from a Japanese source that…
SERN, is using the LHC for conducting time travel experiments.

March 18, 2013 at 3:48 pm


March 19, 2013 at 8:26 pm
(4) Ms. Debra L. Paxton says:

I am intrigued by
Mr. Andrew Jones’ comment regarding time travel; would appreciate more info on same. Thank you.

March 27, 2013 at 4:38 pm
(5) Savka Tonashka says:

About your comment Mr. Jones– you just now have heard about this? It have been here for a while, but regardless of that keep us posted please.

March 29, 2013 at 4:06 am
(6) Mohammad Shafiq Khan says:

Funds should flow smoothly to NASA, CERN etc. Nobody is bothered about Truth of physical sciences. CERN scientists are befooling themselves and ignorant people. If Higgs Boson is a God particle arising from Big Bang 13.7 billions years ago then the rational question arises whether God can exist under Big Bang paradigm. Rationally God cannot exist under Big Bang paradigm because for any existence including God; substance is a pre-requisite and substance will occupy space. At the time of Big Bang there is no space for God to exist and what comes out of Big Bang is space, time, matter & light/radiation. Now there is no space for God to exist before Big Bang so he cannot exist afterwards. We know matter is made up of protons, neutrons & electrons and as such God cannot be in the matter also, He cannot be in time as time has also started at the time of Big Bang. Since we know what is light/radiation and we are in a position to produce light/radiation; hence God cannot be in the light/radiation also. Then where is God. CERN scientists are deceiving the ignorant fund providers by giving them the notion that they have found the God particle whereas they are working under a paradigm of physics under which God cannot exist. CERN scientists are making absolutely baseless & irrational claims to justify their jobs & wastage of public money in the name of scientific research and they are ignoring my open challenge to save their jobs & degrees. Open challenge could be seen at [http://www.worldsci.org/php/index.php?tab0=Abstracts&tab1=Display&id=6476&tab=2|leo://plh/http%3A*3*3www%2Eworldsci%2Eorg*3php*3index%2Ephp%3Ftab0%3DAbstracts%26tab1%3DDisplay%26id%3D6476%26tab%3D2/PDyB?_t=tracking_disc] Physicists & philosophers of the world act as mute spectators.

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