Higgs boson-like particle discovery claimed at LHC


The moment when Cern director Rolf Heuer confirmed the Higgs results

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Cern scientists reporting from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have claimed the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson.

The particle has been the subject of a 45-year hunt to explain how matter attains its mass.

Both of the Higgs boson-hunting experiments at the LHC (Atlas and CMS) see a level of certainty in their data worthy of a "discovery".

More work will be needed to be certain that what they see is a Higgs, however.

Prof Stephen Hawking tells the BBC's Pallab Ghosh the discovery has cost him $100

The results announced at Cern (European Organization for Nuclear Research), home of the LHC in Geneva, were met with loud applause and cheering.

Prof Peter Higgs, after whom the particle is named, wiped a tear from his eye as the teams finished their presentations in the Cern auditorium.

"I would like to add my congratulations to everyone involved in this achievement," he added later.

"It's really an incredible thing that it's happened in my lifetime."

Prof Stephen Hawking joined in with an opinion on a topic often discussed in hushed tones.

"This is an important result and should earn Peter Higgs the Nobel Prize," he told BBC News.

"But it is a pity in a way because the great advances in physics have come from experiments that gave results we didn't expect."


The CMS experiment team claimed they had seen a "bump" in their data corresponding to a particle weighing in at 125.3 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) - about 133 times heavier than the protons that lie at the heart of every atom.

The BBC's George Alagiah explains the Higgs boson

They claimed that by combining two data sets, they had attained a confidence level just at the "five-sigma" point - about a one-in-3.5 million chance that the signal they see would appear if there were no Higgs particle.

However, a full combination of the CMS data brings that number just back to 4.9 sigma - a one-in-two million chance.

Prof Joe Incandela, spokesman for CMS, was unequivocal: "The results are preliminary but the five-sigma signal at around 125 GeV we're seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle," he told the Geneva meeting.

The Atlas experiment results were even more promising, at a slightly higher mass: "We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of five sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV," said Dr Fabiola Gianotti, spokeswoman for the Atlas experiment at the LHC.

Peter Higgs Peter Higgs joined three of the six theoreticians who first predicted the Higgs at the conference

Prof Rolf Heuer, director-general of Cern, commented: "As a layman I would now say I think we have it."

"We have a discovery - we have observed a new particle consistent with a Higgs boson. But which one? That remains open.

"It is a historic milestone but it is only the beginning."

Commenting on the emotions of the scientists involved in the discovery, Prof Incandela said: "It didn't really hit me emotionally until today because we have to be so focussed… but I'm super-proud."

Dr Gianotti echoed Prof Incandela's thoughts, adding: "The last few days have been extremely intense, full of work, lots of emotions."

A confirmation that this is the Higgs boson would be one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the century; the hunt for the Higgs has been compared by some physicists to the Apollo programme that reached the Moon in the 1960s.

Statistics of a 'discovery'

Swiss franc coin
  • Particle physics has an accepted definition for a "discovery": a five-sigma level of certainty
  • The number of standard deviations, or sigmas, is a measure of how unlikely it is that an experimental result is simply down to chance, in the absence of a real effect
  • Similarly, tossing a coin and getting a number of heads in a row may just be chance, rather than a sign of a "loaded" coin
  • The "three sigma" level represents about the same likelihood of tossing nine heads in a row
  • Five sigma, on the other hand, would correspond to tossing more than 21 in a row
  • Unlikely results are more probable when several experiments are carried out at once - equivalent to several people flipping coins at the same time
  • With independent confirmation by other experiments, five-sigma findings become accepted discoveries

Scientists would then have to assess whether the particle they see behaves like the version of the Higgs particle predicted by the Standard Model, the current best theory to explain how the Universe works. However, it might also be something more exotic.

All the matter we can see appears to comprise just 4% of the Universe, the rest being made up by mysterious dark matter and dark energy.

A more exotic version of the Higgs could be a bridge to understanding the 96% of the Universe that remains obscure.

Scientists will have to look at how the Higgs decays - or transforms - into other, more stable particles after being produced in collisions at the LHC.

Dr Pippa Wells, a member of the Atlas experiment, said that several of the decay paths already showed deviations from what one would expect of the Standard Model Higgs.

For example, a decay path where the Higgs transforms into two photon particles was "a bit on the high side", she explained.

These could get back into line as more statistics are added, but on the other hand, they may not.

"We're reaching into the fabric of the Universe at a level we've never done before," said Prof Incandela.

"We're on the frontier now, on the edge of a new exploration. This could be the only part of the story that's left, or we could open a whole new realm of discovery."

The Standard Model and the Higgs boson

Standard model

The Standard Model is the simplest set of ingredients - elementary particles - needed to make up the world we see in the heavens and in the laboratory

Quarks combine together to make, for example, the proton and neutron - which make up the nuclei of atoms today - though more exotic combinations were around in the Universe's early days

Leptons come in charged and uncharged versions; electrons - the most familiar charged lepton - together with quarks make up all the matter we can see; the uncharged leptons are neutrinos, which rarely interact with matter

The "force carriers" are particles whose movements are observed as familiar forces such as those behind electricity and light (electromagnetism) and radioactive decay (the weak nuclear force)

The Higgs boson came about because although the Standard Model holds together neatly, nothing requires the particles to have mass; for a fuller theory, the Higgs - or something else - must fill in that gap

Paul.Rincon-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1145.

    The most moving thing I've read in ages. I'm overcome with the sheer ingenuity and commitment of these people. Sheer brilliance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1144.

    1135. "And the number 1 story on the BBC is "Singer opens up about sexuality" a non story about an average at best singer."

    Obviously it's all relative, but a guy in mainstream(ish) hip-hop coming out as gay is a pretty big deal. It's been almost as long as the Higgs boson coming!

    Now I'm wondering if the two are related.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1143.

    For a change we are celebrating REAL SCIENCE!!
    Congratulations are in order for the efforts of the International CERN team.
    After all the pseudo-science generated by IPCC, and now the "Environmentally sustainable" crowd attempting to repeat the GW scam, it is refereshing to see REAL SCIENCE in the headlines.
    Yes I have repeated in capitals but it is exiting news!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1142.

    @ 1110-patbenetar, your facetious remarks only shine a light on your ignorance. Democritus was only armed with his brain and a theory . CERN is armed with a collaboration of nations and unlimited resources. I won't acknowledge your stupid questions as they deserve no explanation. You seem to be so superior so you go figure out y an ancient theory is far less dangerous than a "confirmation" of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1141.

    If the Higgs will help to explain how our solar system started, where does this leave religion?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1140.

    If they have found it, then it is only because God decided that it was time to allow them to find it, I would finish with the word 'discuss', but i'm late today, so the forum is already at 'I've had ten pints of cider and I'm right', 'I've had eleven and you're wrong'. So I won't. Or will I? Or have I already both finished and not finished. Sigh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1139.

    1129.Total Mass Retain
    4 Minutes ago
    Did you say you would classify yourself as a reputable scientist with a Phd?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1138.

    Thats a popular myth. Few people ever though the earth was flat"

    If you're a medieval serf who has never moved more than 5 miles from home, the earth might as well be flat. But even to mariners around the ancient world it mattered to know it was round. To reliable circumnavgiation from the 17C onwards it also mattered that to know the earth went round the sun, not the other way round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1137.

    Its is simply amazing what dedication and perseverance can do. Hats off to the capable scientists who put their lifetimes in the pursuit of the science for the benefit of everyone. BUT , it is such a shame that science remains the least paid and most mocked profession in the world with people working in this field making a pittance compared to the salaries of bankers and their like. Shameful !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1136.

    I will never understand the "waste of money" brigade's argument. Yes, there are many problems facing the planet, social, economic or political. "Blue Sky" research projects such as this will inevitably enhance our understanding of the universe, which in turn will yield practical applications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1135.

    So this is the conclusion of a 45 year hunt, something that may potentially be life changing to the whole world.

    And the number 1 story on the BBC is "Singer opens up about sexuality" a non story about an average at best singer.

    I really do wonder about the people on this planet and their priorities sometimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1134.

    Keep giving us dreams, CERN. Please convince NASA to do the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1133.

    @ Shift That Paradigm (1123) - "Please, you've had your fun so stop spending on this "
    How massively condecending. If your list is so damn important to humanity - you work on it. Have you considered that others have differing opinions to you, and perhaps more vision?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1132.

    Have they thought about using goal line technology to try and get a piccie of it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1131.

    1092. Peter_Sym: "Jesus turned water into wine" Isn't that the problem? Only Jesus should be able to turn water into wine, but alchemists sought powers (e.g. The Philosopher's Stone) that were reserved unto God. Remember that we're talking about the mid 1600s. I'd imagine any religion would find a bloke like him a little challenging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1130.

    Anyone who says that £2.6 billion spent on finding a new subatomic particle is a waste of money, obviously hasn't seen the budget for the 2012 Olympic games.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1129.

    Does it matter if God made it or the big bang blew it into being? Its there. Thats whats important."

    Yes it does. Did this "God" create the universe with a set of constraints ("the laws of physics") that then led to us intentionally or unintentionally being here or did "He" intervene afterwards to guide how things turned out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1128.


    It is post Big-Bang, but it's also inside the few nanoseconds of existence where standard physics models simply refused to work. Discovery of this particle means that we can move our understanding even closer to zero-time and therefore is another step on the way to finding answers on the Universes' origin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1127.

    1115. It was observed by the ancient Greeks a long time before then. There was a political move towards the flat Earth model during the reign of the Roman Empire (around the time the mobs trashed the Library at Alexandria). We were able to "re-observe" these things, but it still set us back centuries.

    As for how widley believe it was, I doubt regular folk thought about it much at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1126.

    aussyn Man hasnt evolved here, he has devolved into idiocy."
    I think you've proved that true for some men."
    I think you took 1/2 the quote for your own ends.. the beginning of the quote said about 2.6 billion and the poor).. therefore idiocy + devolved? = people starving to death is not important as 2.6 million best spent on a machine to prove something


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