As expected CERN has made the announcement that the Higgs Boson has been “found”. Though a more correct description might be “isolated”. What the ATLAS results show is a particle that decays and emits energy in the the range 125-126 GeV (gig-electron volts). This particle has been confirmed to a “5 sigma” level – the gold-standard for classifying something as a scientific discovery.
The Higgs is the particle that gives other particles their mass. Creating a field that “drags” on other particles – the more a particle interacts with the Higgs the more mass it has. It forms a cornerstone of the current “standard model” description of the Universe as we know it and is the first quantum particle to be predicted theoretically and subsequently identified. It’s a monumental discovery, one that all of the scientists involved can be justly proud of, and goes a long way to confirming the standard model view of the universe.”
The Higgs though is not an end. It’s really just one part of the puzzle of how things work. Certainly a significant one but not by any means the only one. Although used by scientists, the standard model is known to be incomplete – it’s the best description of how the Universe works, but skips past areas such as gravity, general relativity, dark matter and other important issues. It works – kind of – so long as you ignore these limitations, but is a long way from being complete.
So the Higgs is a key that will potentially open doors into some of these areas. Now we know its location, researches can start targeting it and designing experiments specifically to investigate it further.
Physics is like working on a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces fit, but may be invisible, possibly undetectable and combine together only through probability rather than an absolute sense. That’s why it’s so hard to build up the full picture. You could build up half the jigsaw and one piece out of place could make all that work meaningless and you have to start again.
The Higgs could be the most crucial puzzle piece to date – or it could turn out to be a fairly mundane part that ends up contributing little. Ever the optimist I’d like to think it will be the former, but only time will tell.