What is the Higgs Boson?

Artist rendition of Higgs bosons generated after a particle collision. Created for Niels Bohr institute by artist-in-residence Mette Høst

Billions of Euros have been ploughed into the construction of the largest experiment known in the history of mankind. The Large Hadron Collider (officially due to be “switched on” September 10th 2008) will eventually create proton-proton collision energies near the 14 TeV mark by the end of this decade. This is all highly impressive; already the applications of the LHC appear to be endless, probing smaller and smaller scales with bigger and bigger energies. But how did the LHC secure all that funding? After all, the most expensive piece of lab equipment must be built with a purpose? Although the aims are varied and far-reaching, the LHC has one key task to achieve: Discover the Higgs Boson, the world’s most sought-after particle. If discovered, key theories in particle physics and quantum dynamics will be proven. If it isn’t found by the LHC, perhaps our theories are wrong, and our view of the Universe needs to be revolutionized… or the LHC needs to be more powerful.

Either way, the LHC will revolutionize all facets of physics. But what is the Higgs boson? And why in the hell is it so important?
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Do Hadrons Feel Pain?

Catchy slogan at the protest (BBSpot)
Or else... what? (BBSpot)

Hold on, I’ve just found out some worrying news from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This mammoth experiment goes online in one month and two days and I don’t think we’ve fully grasped what this machine is going to do.

It will kill hadrons, by their millions.

I know, I felt the same way. What kind of deprived mind would think up such a plan? There we are being told by the physicists that colliding hadrons at high energies will somehow benefit mankind. We are also being told by the doomsayers that the LHC will create a micro black hole, killing us all. But so far there has been little thought for the tiny elemental particles caught in the middle of all this. Do you think they want to be accelerated to the point where they resemble a wave more than a particle? No. Do you think they want to be bashed at high speed, splattering their innards around the inside of a detector chamber? No.

Please, spare a thought for all those innocent quarks, they don’t have a voice…

(Oh dear, here we go again…)
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Channel 4 Report About LHC Safety (ft. Walter Wagner!)

Working on the LHC (CERN)
Working on the LHC (CERN)

The LHC is set to go online in around two months time and the scientific world waits in anticipation for the first results. However, there are a few who are more concerned than excited for the LHC experiments. On Tuesday night, I was kindly asked to join the LHC debate with the prominent LHC critic, Walter Wagner on Captain Jack’s show Paranormal Radio. To be honest, I really enjoyed the open platform provided for me to ask Walter some questions about his forthcoming lawsuit against the US partners funding CERN. Mr Wagner is far from being a fantasist or “crank” (as I’ve seen unkindly written in some of the media), but his views are more in the realms of speculation, rather than being based on the actual physics predicted to come out of the LHC.

Today, science reporter David Fuller with the UK news channel ITN contacted me to say that he had covered Walter’s story in a news item for Channel 4. He put together a very balanced report that should allay any fears that micro black holes or strangelets could be produced by this awesome experiment in the search for the Higgs boson…
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LHC Detector ATLAS Captures High Energy Atmospheric Particles

Reconstruction of a muon passing through ATLAS (CERN/LHC)
Reconstruction of a muon passing through ATLAS (CERN/LHC)

Hold on! ATLAS has already started detecting particles? Yes, indeed it has. Particle collisions don’t only happen inside particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC); they happen all the time in the Earth’s atmosphere. High energy protons (or larger ions) generated by the Sun or other cosmic phenomenon (such as a supernova) bathe local space, passing through matter and colliding with atoms and molecules. Should a natural collision event occur in our atmosphere, billions of particles cascade from the point of collision, creating an “air shower.” Muons are one product of this air shower (in fact, the only natural muon production processes known are cosmic ray collisions) and some have been captured, making a fast-dash across the sensors in the recently completed A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS (ATLAS for short) detector at the LHC. It’s unexpected observations like these that really excite me, especially when we are a (possible) few weeks away from the first injection of particles into the LHC…
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Tonight: Walter Wagner Discusses His LHC Lawsuit (a.k.a. “The Doomsday Suit”) on Paranormal Radio – I Will Join the Debate!

The LHC at CERN (CERN)
The LHC at CERN (CERN)

I’ve been captivated by the commotion caused by this summer’s “switch on” of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. Much of the last few month have been focused around a lawsuit that Walter Wagner filed in Honolulu, Hawaii four months ago.

Tonight, Walter Wagner will be talking live with Captain Jack on Paranormal Radio (WPRT Radio) to discuss his concerns for the particle accelerator. Kudos to Wagner for appearing live to defend his views on the subject. In an added twist, I’ve been invited to join in with the debate. The live show begins at 9pm Eastern Time (Wagner will be on the show starting at 10pm EST), airing over Seattle and Chicago (I think!) and transmitted over the internet.
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Will the LHC Peel Open Some New Dimensions?

A possible visualization of microscopic extra dimensions. Source: http://www.physto.se/~troms/
A possible visualization of microscopic extra dimensions. Source: http://www.physto.se/~troms/

As we near the Large Hadron Collider’s (LHC) maiden relativistic collision later this year, speculation and excitement continues to mount. There are a host of possibilities as to what we may observe from the most powerful, focused collisions ever carried out in a laboratory environment. Fundamentally, the search for the Higgs boson will be taken to a new level, but there may be a few surprises for the particle physicists analysing the detector data. What if the LHC uncovers an alternative to the Higgs boson? What if the “standard model” of quantum theory isn’t to a universal standard? Putting the Higgs boson to one side, forgetting the exciting possibility of a micro-black hole (and confirmation of Hawking Radiation) and leaving the production of wormholes and stranglets in the “unlikely” drawer, what possibility intrigues me the most? The discovery of microscopic, curled-up dimensions the LHC may unravel as it focuses its energy on scales previously unthinkable…
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Poll: In Your Opinion, What Will be the First LHC Landmark Discovery?

Working on the LHC (CERN)

The first experiments to be carried out by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN are on the horizon. Some people are frightened by this historic particle accelerator, but the science community is abuzz with anticipation and excitement. Although some of the conditions of the Big Bang will be recreated, it is important to remember a second “Bigger Bang” will not be generated – although the LHC is powerful, it’s not that powerful!

There is a rich variety of experiments that will be carried out by a variety of LHC detectors in the 27 km circumference ringed accelerator. These experiments include ATLAS, CMS, ALICE, LHCb, TOTEM, and LHCf. All have their own specific goals, but a few possible discoveries stand out as being revolutionary for particle physics and cosmology alike. I’ve written a host of articles about the LHC and I have my own personal hopes for what could be discovered, but I’d be interested to get your views too…
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Why is the LHC so Important? I’ll let Brian Cox Explain…

I’ve only just stumbled on this fantastic presentation Brian Cox did in Monterey, California in March this year explaining the stunning science behind CERN’s newest addition. I have followed the progress of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) intently and I personally cannot wait until the accelerator is turned on. There has been much debate about the safety of the LHC and there have been some seriously nutty theories about the bad things that the LHC could (never) do. So, rather than waste any more time on the (impossible) negatives, let’s take a look into how the LHC is going to alter mankind’s view on the Universe forever with the help of Brian Cox at his best…
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The Case of the Supermassive Black Hole, the Infrared Object and Perceived Accuracy of Science

There is a trend in astronomical observations to label strange and exotic objects with superlative names. Take “supermassive” black holes for instance. Yes they are more massive than intermediate black holes, bigger than stellar black holes, and in a whole different league to theoretical micro-black holes. But is the label “supermassive” an accurate description? Is it even scientific?

After reading a very interesting article written by Michael Gmirkin on “Incorrect Assumptions in Astrophysics“, I began to relate his investigation into the use of terms to describe astronomical phenomena with very expressive names. Terms like “super-massive”, “ultra-luminous”, and “beyond-bright” are mentioned by Gmirkin, perhaps leading astronomers to incorrect conclusions. Whilst this may be perceived as an issue amongst scientists, what if the media or non-specialist individuals misinterpret the meaning of these grand statements? Could it lead to public misunderstanding of the science, possibly even causing worry when a scientist describes a particle accelerator collision as “recreating the conditions of the Big Bang”?
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LHC Worries are Based on Fear of the Unknown, not Science

The construction of the LHC is nearing completion, exciting or worrying? (AP)

I’ve heard some crazy talk in my time, but the fear surrounding the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has really surprised me. On writing a story last month that a guy in Hawaii (with a scant background in physics) was trying to pass a lawsuit to put a stop to the construction of the LHC, I realised the pressures physicists at the cutting edge of science are under. Physicists the world over have defended the science behind the LHC, and although some of the products from high energy particle collisions are as yet unknown, there is an infinitesimal chance that a black hole will swallow Earth… (I actually want a black hole to be created, the scientific implications will be revolutionary.)
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