Saturday, July 19, 2008

And what if the Large Hadron Collider doesn't find the Higgs boson ... ?

I missed this one earlier: Mark Henderson, London Times Science editor's article (April 8, 2008), profiling Peter Higgs (who argued for the existence of the Higgs boson, a particle with mass and little else that explains why other particles have mass) offers,
The mysterious boson postulated by Professor Higgs, of the University of Edinburgh, has become so fundamental to physics that it is often nicknamed the “God particle”. After more than 40 years of research, and billions of pounds, scientists have yet to prove that it is real. But Professor Higgs, 78, now believes the search is nearly over.
But does it exist?
A new atom-smasher that will be switched on near Geneva later this year is virtually guaranteed to find it, he said. It is even possible that the critical evidence already exists, in data from an American experiment in Illinois that has yet to be analysed fully.
He is talking, of course, about the Large Hadron Collider.
The Higgs boson is hard to detect because it is hypothesised to exist only at very high energies, which last existed in nature in the moments after the Big Bang, hence the need for an atom smasher.
If they find the boson, many think Higgs a shoo-in for the Nobel. And if they don't, he muses,
I no longer understand what I think I understand.
The last time I heard that, a philosopher was talking.

Well, at a cost of 2.6 billion British lbs. the Collider had better turn up something interesting. Given the stakes, the great temptation would be to see things that aren't there. But we will know soon.

Note: The article also mentions 70 million lbs in cuts to particle physics in Britain, which could be why world's best known physicist Stephen Hawking, now at Cambridge, was recently heard threatening to move to Canada.