It seems as if today is an anti EDL day, which can’t be a bad thing. Having spent this morning at a vegetarian fair in Hove (about the most middle class way I could have started today) I was handed an interesting leaflet on a sort of anti protest. It seems a little bit like pair production in particle physics in a way, a group decides to have a protest, then a group with a pretty much diametrical ideology decides to have a protest to try and render the first one impotent, one exists because the other does, and they will (preferably) meet and annihilate (though I may be jumping the gun a little when I say annihilate..).

Okay, so the analogy isn’t great, but I quite like the poetry of it.

Later on I discovered this fantastic website, which has a slightly different approach to countering the groups movements, which personally, I really like. Rather than blabbing on about it, just have a look at the link (and try and post their link somewhere if you can, I think their campaign should be supported by everyone!):

Anyway, anyone in the Brighton area should join the anti protest (21st april 2013), as the EDL are a shower of intolerant bastards:


So, as promised here’s my follow up to my brief piece earlier.

The first point is that this is a boson. Not necessarily “the” Higgs boson. So there’s a lot more data to be taken over the next few years, firstly to verify things like the spin of the particle (if I remember there was some data pointing at it being spin 0 and therefore hinting at a scalar Higgs field from the CMS data first thing this morning), but also we need to find out about the nature of it and work exactly what this data is saying.

Now, just in case you didn’t quite understand all of that, I’d better do a little explaining.

In physics there is a system of rules governing the particles which make up our universe which we call the standard model. It classifies all the different particles according to their properties and how they interact, and it tells you some amazing stuff. For example, earlier I mentioned this thing called spin, which is a property of tiny particles, and electrons (which I’m going to assume you have heard of if you’ve read this far..) are what’s called spin 1/2. This tells us (through certain theories of quantum mechanics) that all the electrons in the universe are linked in certain ways which make things like chemical bonds, and therefore the structure of our universe, possible.

The Standard Model as is helps us predict the properties of particles, much like the famed Higgs boson. This thing was predicted as a consequence of a theory on by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs (as well as others working on electroweak symmetry breaking) back in the 60’s. The methods used allowed physicists to predict all the forms that the particle might exist in, the particular one being related to more fundamental properties of matter. I would just like to take this opportunity to sat that Prof Higgs is a man to live up to and has my greatest respect.

One of the big consequences of Higgs’ theory is something called the Higgs field, which is a field theory of how things have mass (mass is a scalar value, hence you will hear it called a scalar field). Probably the most common analogy used to describe it is that it’s a bit like being in a vat of molasses, and the more the molasses slows you down the more mass you have (unfortunately particle physics doesn’t lend itself too well to analogies, but it gives you an idea…). What it technically tells us is that particles don’t really have mass, they just interact at different levels with the Higgs field. Which any way you think about it is quite a revelation!

The Higgs boson (or bosons) gives much more weight to this theory, it exists in this model because the Higgs field does, and tells us about theories that go even deeper than the standard model (for example, the mass of the particle discovered is low enough to tell us that it might be a supersymmetric Higgs particle, so if it’s tested that’ll be an avenue down which to venture further..). Thus finding it would be a huge leap forward in particle physics, it would tell us where we are, where we might go, where we should go, and just generally tells us how much we really do about the nature of the universe. That makes this a really big thing for people involved/interested in physics around the World.

It also tells about a time just after the big bang, when some theories suggest all the particles and forces in the Universe had enough energy to act in the same way. Eventually this energy spread out across space and this things separated out into the constituents of the modern universe (this is symmetry breaking). A lot of the mechanisms (as mentioned earlier) in this require the Higgs field.

So that’s a little bit about why it’s being done, and it’s probably worth looking briefly at how as well. The two collaborations announcing results today were ATLAS and CMS (to give them their full titles: A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS, and the Compact Muon Solenoid respectively), which are the names of two of the particle detectors used to gather data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The LHC is 17km long ring which accelerates protons up to nearly the speed of light and smashes them together, detectors like ATLAS and CMS then use various methods to look at what comes out in debris of these collision. At higher energies particles that can’t be seen on a day to day basis can be spotted using the detectors. This is what has been going on for the last few years at CERN. Hence we have the data which has been analysed to give today’s results. It’s also important to note that this the heaviest boson seen in a particle detector, which is a true testament to the magnitude of the LHC.

As is clear from most of the things you can say about the particle, this mornings news is pretty massive (excuse the pun…). As I said before, it is important to remember that a new boson has been discovered, the physicists involved are as yet unable to say much more than that, but it is also true that it is at a mass concurrent with what is expected by some theories and unless there are large gaps in our knowledge there isn’t a lot more it could be (it is also most likely that it is one of a few different Higgs bosons), so while there’s a long way to go before the claim is verified, as is usual in particle physics, it’s at least very closely related to what they were looking for.

To summarize, we don’t know what they’ve found yet, it needs more work at CERN and other colliders around the world, but we do know that whatever it is it’s very important. There’s a lot of “probably” in all of this, but it’s pretty clear that we’ve found something very Higgs like (though don’t hold me to it) and the next few years will hopefully answer a lot of questions about the universe.

Watch this space!

Also, if any readers would like to see the slides used at this mornings seminars they can be found here

Pete Baker over at Slugger ‘o’ Toole has a great piece on the physics community’s reaction here

I would like to cover this in more breadth and depth at a later hour/date, but for now:

So. The biggest announcement in particle physics in our lifetimes. How amazing is this?!

The best part of it to my mind is that the evidence is at only 126.5 GeV, so the LHC should be able to keep producing them relatively easy to produce making them more straightforward to study. Obviously this is important for making sure that we have the Higg’s, but  also for investigating it further, to help probe the standard model.

It’s such an amazing age we live in, that 2 weeks after finishing taking data it can be shown that a new particle has been discovered, which could tell us in the near future how the scalar fields which gives everything mass works. This will probably be the biggest science announcement of at least my lifetime, and it also shows that experimental particle physics really has reached a new era.

Once again, this is truly a red letter day in physics, and I’m looking forward to the rest of today and this week.

More later with any luck…

Here’s a picture of Prof. Higgs, who deserves the World’s congratulations today!

So the media are getting all speculative and excited about the latest results from the LHC at CERN (Geneva) and the Tevatron at Fermilab (US), and all of a sudden the announcement has gone from being “New data in the search for the Higgs” to something along the lines of “Scientists about to make or break the standard model”. The media does seem to lack a sense of proportion when it comes to the LHC, which does make sense, I mean when you spend a lot of money on a bit of kit you expect it to do amazing things. It’s reminiscent though of last years neutrino data debacle, and I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed (though then again, it could be a new era of physics…).

For anyone that doesn’t know, the Higgs Boson is a theoretical particle in something we call the standard model of particle physics. It’s kind of needed so that the whole idea works, and if it doesn’t exist it has big implications for particle physics. It was theorised by a physicist named Peter Higgs back in the 60’s and basically gives particles mass. So if we have a definite yes or no on this it does have very important consequences. That’s a big if.

The big test of any data is the errors on it, and the significance of these errors are measured in what’re called sigma, the more sigma, the less reliable the result. If we get a result within four or five sigma then we have officially discovered a new particle and we can happily say we have enough data to say it exists. As with any experiment, physicists across the world are hoping for this as it progresses physics, but it’s going to be a while before we know if this is what we have (double checking these errors can take a lot of time, see the OPERA experiment errors) .

Skepticism aside, pretty much every element of particle physics is based on the standard model, and Higgs based physics has been worked on since the particle came on the scene, it’s a fairly straightforward solution to this issue in the standard model, which we like. If it turns out that it doesn’t exist, two things will (probably) happen:

1) I will find getting jobs in theoretical physics easier.

2) A lot of my lecturers may be quite pissed off.

Which means I have a vested interest in next weeks announcement.

What I find very interesting about this is that it shows how physics has changed over time. For example, when Einstein first proposed special relativity (by the way, if you had to click the Einstein link you should be hanging your head in shame right now) a lot of things had to be looked at, but in the current paradigm, there are things that have to work on ideas that we can only assume are completely correct. Theoretical physics moves so fast these days that we have to come up with ideas based on ideas, it’s a fascinating paradigm.

In a maybe slightly twisted way it’ll be fascinating to see what happens if the LHC, either next Wednesday or further down the line, tells us that the Higgs mechanism isn’t quite right.

More next Wednesday I suppose…

Okay, so I’m going to use this first post as a warning, this blog is about whatever I feel like, so it might seem a little disjointed. It’s more about the individual posts than the whole thing together, as it’s basically an outlet for my love of going off on a tangent.

I have nothing much else to add, so enjoy!

Oh, and here’s a nice picture I took of the statue of Charles Darwin in Londons Natural history museum.