maandag 9 juli 2012

Brown Sugar

On the 4th of July 2012 the world knew: the Higgs-particle had been discovered by two experiments, ATLAS and CMS, at the Large Hadron Collider of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics near Geneva. Two wonderful seminars at CERN summarized many years of innovative experimentation and data analysis, culminating in the highlight for now: the observation of the Higgs boson through its decay into two photons. A peak is observed in the two photon spectrum, the evidence being corroborated by other for the time being somewhat less populated channels.

There was relief and excitement, euphoria even, among those who had been involved in this long and risky project. Understandably so: the stakes had been very high, many had invested more than a decade and some more than two, of their scientific careers in this endeavour: the search for ‘the Higgs’. But the excitement was by no means limited to the ‘small’ circle of insiders: through the interest of the media in this news an audience of many, many millions was reached. Heart-warming for all the physicists and engineers who had been one way or another involved in this adventure, but also an opportunity for explaining and sharing the excitement with ‘the public’. ‘The Higgs’ is public property, the research has been entirely publicly funded by the Member States of CERN, by the associate members, by other bilateral agreements and by the various national research organisations (in the Netherlands this is NWO).

What ìs the Higgs particle? Why is this discovery so important? What is the use of it? I would love to address these questions and I would do so along the lines I have done many times before. I will not do that here. I would also love to answer questions like: how was the discovery made? Why was it so hard, why did it take so long? I will not do that here either. I use this space to challenge the ‘experts (without credentials)’ to properly think about answers to these questions before making statements and appearances in the mass media. If you are not passionate about the subject, either explain that or stay away from it. If you are not knowledgeable: stay away from it.

In a Dutch TV show the Higgs field was modelled as brown sugar. ‘Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good’.

Jos Engelen
July 9, 2012