Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Hello, Higgs. What now?

CMS 7 TeV + 8 TeV diphoton channel CMS.
Source: Phil Gibbs
So they've found the Higgs. Not that this announcement was much of a surprise today, after lots of rumors had trickled into the blogosphere during the last weeks. A milestone, they will write in the history books, a symphony of global collaboration and combined efford, a triumph of the human mind, it was, finding the particle responsible for the origin of mass, roughly where expected with roughly the properties expected.

Roughly, but not exactly as it seems, apparently they have too few tau/anti-tau decays, and, as we've known for some while, the mass is somewhat heavy.

There are some good summaries here, here and here.

There will follow now years and years of analysis of LHC data and theorizing, thousands of papers and hundreds of cubic meters of coffee will be needed to get a clearer picture. We've learned something - now we can revise our understanding of nature. And in the end, we'll be left with a puzzle, an open question, and a theory that requires higher energies to really test it.

And so, strangely, on this sunny day for high energy particle physics, I feel somewhat blue about the prospects. It's been almost two decades since the last discovery of a particle that we presently believe is elementary, the top quark in 1995, which was the year I finished high school. It's been a long way and an enormous effort to that little bump in the above plot. There isn't so much more we can do with hadron colliders. If we try really hard, we can ramp up the energy a little and improve the luminosity a little. Of course what we want next is a lepton collider like the ILC that will complete the picture that the LHC delivers.

But we have a diminishing return on investment. Not so surprisingly - it's the consequence of our increasingly better understanding that it takes more effort to find something new. And to make that effort of blue sky fundamental research, we need societies who can afford it. There's an economic question here, about the way mankind will develop, it's the question whether or not we'll be able to take care of our survival needs, and still continue to have enough resources to push the boundary of nature's secrets back further.

If I look at the ongoing disaster that the European Union has turned into, and at our inability to fix problems with the global financial system, our inability to help billions of people who live in poverty and who lack health care, our inability to find a global perspective on global problems - and our ignorance for most of this issues too - I am far from certain that we will be able to continue to afford that investment. And if we can't, then we lose a major source of innovation, and we risk getting stuck entirely.

So on this day of triumph for fundamental research, I really hope we do get our act together and manage to address the problems we have in governing a global society, for the sake of science.

29 comments:

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phillip Helbig said...

The problem is not that there is not enough money. The USA spends about one-and-one-half million dollars on the military---every minute. The cost of scientific research is negligible compared to other costs. Affordability is not the problem, but rather a question of priorities.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I think the first thing needed to be examined, that is regardless if it relates to research or the more general state of the human condition, being if competition should remain to be the key driver of improvement or rather should objectives. For instance why does China find it so necessary to expend so much resource and effort to duplicate a result achieved more than forty years ago? My contention being it is because we haven’t yet got beyond being a tribal species. So I see efforts like the LHC to be headed towards where things need to go so as to have ourselves to further evolve. That is we need to look more to improving the nature of the producers and the product will take care of itself.


” Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence. [...] Terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it everything affects everything all the time. [...] In our long striving to recover for the Western world a unity of sensibility and of thought and feeling we have no more been prepared to accept the tribal consequences of such unity than we were ready for the fragmentation of the human psyche by print culture.”

-Marshall McLuhan, ”Gutenberg Galaxy” p. 32, University of Toronto Press

Regards,

Phil

Arun said...

For instance why does China find it so necessary to expend so much resource and effort to duplicate a result achieved more than forty years ago?

Because that is how you climb the ladder of capabilities and competencies.

Why are human capabilities and competencies organized by nation? Well, that is the way wealth and power are distributed also, by nation.

Phil Warnell said...

Arun,

As I said tribal.

Best,

Phil

Arun said...

If I look at the ongoing disaster that the European Union has turned into, and at our inability to fix problems with the global financial system, our inability to help billions of people who live in poverty and who lack health care, our inability to find a global perspective on global problems - and our ignorance for most of this issues too - I am far from certain that we will be able to continue to afford that investment.

It is not a lack of money or solutions. It is a matter of ideology, political will and values.

BTW, I heard on the radio y'day, third-world treatment of HIV-positive people started out costing $1100 per person per year and is now around $350. The cost of treating HIV-positive people in the US per person per year is $7000-9000. The cost difference is born from the way we choose to organize ourselves, the relative weights we give different values. (E.g., the third-world effort buys retrovirals in wholesale and distributes them at cost, the US patient buys the drugs in retail.)

Bee said...

Hi Phillip,

That is correct, one can debate what priorities are good or not so good for the sake of progress, but even if that problem did not exist there would still be the question of whether we can continue to afford fundamental research or if we will come to a stagnation where we just can't accumulate enough resources anymore. Best,

B.

Giotis said...

SUSY could save the day. It would give HEP theoretical physics a tremendous boost at least for the next 50 years. But unfortunately no signs of it yet...

Bee said...

Hi Giotis,

Yes... but at this point it looks somewhat unlikely that the LHC will be able to deliver unambiguous evidence for SUSY. Maybe some hint, but to really know we'll have to do more, which was the train of thought that brought up the question above, how much more can we do? Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Arun,

"It is not a lack of money or solutions. It is a matter of ideology, political will and values."

Well, these issues are of course tightly related. The question is really, how far can we push, and how do we do it best. In the end, we'll have to accumulate the capital one way or the other, which is why one can't get money out of the equation. But it's really a placeholder for our economic power and, yes, also willingness. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I don't think we can do entirely without competition, it is a major driver of ambition certainly. However, I guess we could cut back a little to the benefit of collaboration. Best,

B.

Neil Bates said...

Perpicles caught (inferred?)! Thanks, Detective Dirty Higgsy:

Higgsy: We’re not just going to let you walk out of here.
Particles: Who’s “we”, sucker?
Higgsy: ATLAS, CMS and me.

(Link to my original Dirty Higgsy joke:
http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com/2012/06/dirty-higgsy-says.html

Arun said...

Phil:

As the American forces trying to reassemble the nation of Afghanistan are finding to their dismay, there is a big difference between tribal and national.

In any case, even if technology was freely transferred around the globe, some amount of recapitulation would be needed, it is an unavoidable part of learning.

DocG said...

Seems like a great deal of fuss over finding evidence of a particle that might (or might not) be the Higgs, simply because a blip has been identified at a certain energy level.

I'd greatly appreciate it, Bee, if you could post some more on this issue, not necessarily explaining what the Higgs is and why it's important (I've seen several such "explanations" on the Internet already), but outlining what more they hope to learn about it, and about physics generally, simply by smashing protons into anti-protons.

I'm wondering whether all this fuss and all this expense is mostly about the Nobel prize, or whether this discovery will truly lead to new insights and further developments in fundamental physics. And if so, how do they hope to achieve such a breakthrough?

Any light you could throw on this matter would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Uncle Al said...

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/assets/2012/07/04/sn-higgs-combined.jpg
"Higgs"

Bottommost ATLAS line: the four-point dip between 118 - 122 GeV has no effect at all on the fitted line. The four-point rise between 124 - 128 GeV is the Higgs. Two additional points leading the Higgs peak go down as the fitted line goes up.

To borrow an economics phrase, "cautious optimism."

Eric said...

Regarding the problems in the world and our failure to solve them... Well, people just have to have more empathy for people they don't know personally. That's really all it is. And the policy and decision makers will ultimately have to come from a different segment of society than they do now. The system as it exists now across all nations caters to the most ego and power driven among us. Is it any wonder then that the decisions that get made are what they are? The greater public (before they get brainwashed by distorted reporting) has a much better handle on what is wrong than most of the leaders.

And on the Higgs. Bee, maybe you discuss why they think it is a scalar particle and what the implications of that would be. I assume it would not be a vector boson then, right?

Zephir said...

/*.. The problem is not that there is not enough money. The USA spends about one-and-one-half million dollars on the military---every minute..*/

If physicists wouldn't f**k the cold fusion finding before twenty years, the USA wouldn't spend the billions in oil wars (it would spend it in another wars somewhere else, though) and the physicists would get enough money for their toys. Now they're just getting, what the gave the rest of human society.

Zephir said...

What we can see at the above picture is maybe the whole line of bumps, the
periodicity of which is quite apparent. IMO it's not experimental noise, but a real artifact, corresponding
this graph.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Technically a resonance was discovered.

It is consistent with a boson, but may have a spin of 0 or 2(!).

The di-photon channel decay rate is a factor of 2 higher than predicted.

The WW channel decay rate may be a bit too low.

The tau-tau decay channel rate appears to be inexplicably zero.

So have a great celebration, and when the particle physicists sober up they might get back to objective science and healthy skepticism.

Robert L. Oldershaw
Discrete Scale Relativity

Zephir said...

/* The di-photon channel decay rate is a factor of 2 higher than predicted...*/

More mechanisms are probably involved here, but IMO the most significant is the fact, the Standard Model is not complete yet and it allows the fourth generation of particles: the superheavy quarks and neutrinos. The pairing of these particles in Higgs field is indeed the most intensive, but because these particles are extremely unstable, they decay directly into shower of gamma ray photons before they can be detected as such.

Eric said...

Zephir, I think you might have something there. See, I'm listening. Only time will tell if it is the fourth generation of particles or something else. Man, would I hate it if it turned out to be one of the super symmetry Higgs predicted. I don't think there is much chance of that happening though.

Plato Hagel said...

Not sure if it will help but I enjoyed John Ellis's explanation. The analogies really help to put perspective in order for lay people.

Also one must realize the importance given to particle mass distinctions under this field.

Zephir said...

/*** would I hate it if it turned out to be one of the super symmetry Higgs predicted...*/

The physicists don't understand supersymmetry concept, or they would realize, that the neutrino is superpartner of photon already. IMO Higgs is AdS/CFT dual version of dark matter, where the superparticles weren't officially found at all (because the neutrinos are ignored) and the content of neutrinos is bellow 7% here. So I don't expect, the supersymmetry will play a significant role in Higgs bosons, but it couldn't be excluded completely. There are many other mechanisms, which could affect the Higgs field behavior and I expect, the phenomenological physics will explode in this field, because we have lotta theorists, but low amount of data.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Windy: "More mechanisms are probably involved here..."

Without a doubt many more epicycles will have to be added in order to get the caliope tooting properly.

Ahhh, the invisible Higgs field! It's like molasses, doncha know, and as particles fight through it they acquire mass.

It takes one's breath away.

What fun!

uair01 said...

What do I care about the Higgs. I wish we had spent that money and effort on nuclear fusion research.

Cesar said...

Hi

What about the String Theory? Will the discovery of the Higgs boson alter it in some way? I'm one of that "lay people".

Thanks.

Giotis said...

Cesar,

The answer is no. The Higgs discovery will not alter String theory.

Of course the various string phenomenological models should take the properties of the Higgs field into account (the Higgs field was long anticipated so it is already considered in these stringy models but embedded in a low energy SUSY environment) together with whatever else LHC might discover.

These models (which are many) are trying to derive the standard model from the full theory but they are low energy effective descriptions of the full theory. The theory itself remains unaltered; its realm lies in very high energy scales (Planck scales) which LHC can't probe.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Gordy Kane claimed again at a recent string theory conference that he predicted the putative Higgs boson mass using string theory.

Unfortunately, even the conference attendees were underwhelmed.

See latest "Not Even Wrong" thread for details.

Bee said...

Hi Cesar,

Sorry for my slow reply, I was traveling. Giotis said it well. There is to date no derivation of the properties of the Higgs from string theory, so there is no need to alter the theory. The discovery of the Higgs changes to some extend of course what you hope to eventually be able to derive in, or at least accommodate in, string theory. Best,

B.