Physicists Anxiously Await New Data on ‘God Particle’

Dennis Overbye in The New York Times:

HIGGS-2-popupHigh noon is approaching for the biggest manhunt in the history of physics. At 8 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday morning, scientists from CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, are scheduled to give a progress report on the search for the Higgs boson — infamously known as the “God particle” — whose discovery would vindicate the modern theory of how elementary particles get mass. The report comes amid rumors that the two competing armies of scientists sifting debris from hundreds of trillions of proton collisions in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, or L.H.C., outside Geneva, have both finally seen hints of what might turn out be the elusive particle when more data is gathered next year. Alternatively, the experimentalists say that a year from now they should have enough data to rule out the existence of the most popular version of the Higgs boson, sending theorists back to their blackboards in search of another explanation of why particles have mass.

So the whole world will be watching.

Among them will be Lisa Randall, a Harvard particle theorist and author of the new book “Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World.” In an interview with Dennis Overbye of The Times, Dr. Randall provided this guide to the action for those of us in the bleachers.

Q. What is the Higgs and why is it important?

A. The name Higgs refers to at least four things. First of all, there is a Higgs mechanism, which is ultimately responsible for elementary particles’ masses. This is certainly one of the trickier aspects of particle physics to explain, but essentially something like a charge — not an electric charge — permeates the vacuum, the state with no particles.

More here.