December 13, 2011

And So It Begins: Narrowing In On 126 GeV

This morning's presentations by Fabiola Gianotti (ATLAS) and Guido Tonelli (CMS) confirmed what many science bloggers were predicting: if the SM Higgs exists, its mass should be in the 115-130 GeV range (probably right around 126 GeV), indicated by data produced by both experiments. CERN is being extremely cautious in their public optimism, and emphasizes that statistic fluctuations may be responsible for some of the bumps, but I hung out with the physics department at NYU this morning, and there was a lot of happy energy...I think today's news is inconclusive, but fully expect that further data analysis will result in a serious announcement sometime this summer.

The questions is: is this the SM Higgs, or something more exotic? As exciting as a discovery of the SM Higgs would be, it's more tantalizing to imagine data that excludes the SM Higgs, opening the door for some really new physics. (Detection of a non-SM Higgs is beyond the LHC's capacity at its current energy, but starting in 2014, it will run at its full design energy, greatly increasing the possibility of data that hints at new particles.) Either way--and perhaps most importantly--these results are substantial, and the LHC delivered even more data, and more quickly, than most people hoped for, which reinforces the worth of the $5.5b LHC price tag as well as a lot of physicsts' life work (and just wait for 7 TeV! The Standard Model only describes 4% of the universe's matter. There is still a lot to uncover).

The live webcast is here; the CERN press release and other info (plus pictures!) is here; Adrian Cho from Science sums up the results here; Lisa Grossman for NewScientist here; and, for fun, Tommaso Dorigo's post on why these results should be considered "firm evidence" of the SM Higgs.

The world's attention will be increasingly focused on CERN for the next year (one scientist wrote that today's press conference was the craziest he's ever witnessed--he likened it to the release of the iPhone). Within the larger spheres of global economic, political, and cultural tumult, it will be interesting to see how a scientific revolution will play a role in shaping the 21st century.

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