As expected, scientists from the CMS and ATLAS research teams at CERN made an announcement concerning the Higgs boson particle this morning, which unless you’re also a scientist, a physicist, or at the very least a keen amateur, may not have made all that much sense.
Here then, is a simple explanation of what the teams at CERN have discovered, without all the complicated terminology, figures or equations. You know, for normal people.
John Womersley, the Chief Executive at The Science & Technology Facilities Council in London confirmed that “a particle has been discovered that is consistent with the Higgs boson theory.”
Professor Brian Cox also helped translate what had been discovered by CERN. He tweeted “In simple language, CMS have discovered a new boson, and it behaves like the Standard Model Higgs.”
The ATLAS team, who were working alongside the CMS team to find evidence of the Higgs boson, confirmed they had also discovered the very same particle, thus independently verifying its existence.
Both teams achieved around a 5 sigma signal — the accepted “gold standard” measurement for proof of a new particle’s existence — which means they’re about 99.9999-percent sure it’s there.
That’s all pretty clear, but what does it mean? The Guardian explains it well at the beginning of its live coverage of the event, calling it by its alternative name of “God particle,” and saying “its discovery would be proof of an invisible energy field that fills the vacuum of space.”
Here’s an explanatory video from Ian Sample, The Guardian’s resident science correspondent, where he explains how the Higgs boson is instrumental in showing how matter gains mass. To try and find the Higgs boson, CERN used the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, the world’s most powerful particle collider.
Is it the Higgs boson, or not?
So is this new particle the Higgs boson? Everyone involved is going to great lengths to say the new particle isn’t necessarily the Higgs boson, but it is “consistent” with expectations and that it “behaves like the Standard Model Higgs.” Even the official CERN press release doesn’t say it outright, confirming only that it’s a new boson particle and that it’s the heaviest ever found, before again saying it’s “consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson.”
It’s likely to take a few years of research to confirm whether the new particle is a simple Higgs boson, or a part of something even more complex. Many scientists commenting on the news are convinced though, and the director of CERN, Rolf Heuer, said at the event’s conclusion that he was “very, very optimistic” this is the real thing.
The website HaveWeFoundTheHiggsBosonYet.org is completely convinced though, having changed its “no” to a large “yes” this morning.
CERN concludes that whatever form the newly discovered particle takes, “our knowledge of the fundamental structure of matter is about to take a major step forward.”
[Image credit: CERN]