Have we finally found the Higgs boson - particle that generates the proposed field that gives all other particles its mass? If you believe the huge ramp up in the news over the last week culminating in yesterday's announcement from CERN you'd be forgiven for thinking that we have. Maybe we have found it? That would certainly be news. But eh, erm... maybe not. We can't actually say anything yet. Still. Unsurprisingly.
But wasn't there a whole amazing discovery to report? No. Instead it is called gossip, scientific and reasonable gossip but gossip still. And like all good gossip it has been heard over the garden fence and made into something far more than it should have been. And disappointingly so quite deliberately by CERN.
So yes, today's shock news (coming from what really should have only be an private seminar or internal progress report) is that there are a couple of 'bumps' in the data coming out of the data that the Large Hadron Collider has been gathering over the last year in an energy range that (some) models predict the Higgs to lie in. Unfortunately they are also next to a couple of other bumps that may be further confusing things. At the level of certainty they are currently at they could just as easily flutter away into the statistical background with the addition of more data next year as not.
So... there isn't really anything to say at this point that doesn't run the risk of landing significant egg back on the face of the scientific community down the line. It is exciting that the same bumps have been seen in the same spot in the two independent detectors over at the LHC, but still... far too early to call on this either way. So, again no news to report.
It is hard to tell whether it is CERN's publicity people themselves or if it is more the media who are to blame for the over hyping of this story. Personally I am fascinated to hear about the results of the search and it's good to have the public engaged with CERN's progress (they certainly seems to be fascinated by it). HoweverI can't help but feel that that interest might evaporate if the scientific community keeps jumping the gun on running press releases just to stoke the fires some more without really having sufficient research output to justify it. Particle Physics Fatigue could rapidly set in.
That all said particle physics is potentially about to be transformed by three exciting possibilities:
1. The said discovery or non-discovery of the Higgs boson and consequences for ideas about mass and the Standard Model of particle physics.
2. The possibility of neutrinos that travel faster than the speed of light when really, they shouldn't. Detected in one neutrino experiment, waiting to be confirmed (or disproved) by others. I'll admit to being somewhat sceptical on this one, but would love it to be true. It could open the door to some incredible new ideas.
3. Anomalous decay rates between some particles of matter and antimatter which might finally help explain why our universe appears dominated by the former.
Then there's also other unsolved problems like gravity and how to couple it into a grand unified theory of the universe. If we can. Oh and all that pesky dark matter and dark energy (totalling 96% of the universe) still needs explaining too.
Exciting times. But let's be sensible about it too.
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