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 1165.

    Praise the Lord and pass the particle accelerator ammunition

  • rate this

    Comment number 1164.

    Hey Stoke Dave @ 1141 - where does it leave religion? Higgs knows, mate.

    Actually, I think it's a close run between Genesis and the Standard Model when it comes to awarding the Far-Fetched Medal. Besides, I thought the Catholics were responsible for mass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1163.

    Science flies you to the moon.

    Religion flies you into buildings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1162.

    "This is an example of what we can achieve by working together. I only hope many others appreciate this truly important discovery. I'm so proud of being a human right now" seems a common view
    Right and when everyone falls out what will they do with it then, Divorce is messy and this will be the Mother..Who gets custody!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1161.

    1133 OpenThinking "@ Shift That Paradigm (1123) "Please, you've had your fun so stop spending on this"
    How massively condecending [sic]. 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?"
    For example, even 'brainy' scientists are totally fooled by the banking system. Where does money come from?

  • Comment number 1160.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1159.

    I hope the writers of the Big Bang Theory can work this into the sixth season somehow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1158.

    "This is a waste of money"

    Nothing that improves our knowledge of how the universe works is a waste of money.

    What IS a waste is a mind that can't, or refuses to, understand that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1157.

    To all the people who say this is a waste of money I think you need to look at the definition of Money and Waste.

    Our fiat currency is not money and how is it wasted when there is an end result?

    This could have an impact on the world that is far bigger than your in "fashinon" clothes, "latest" cars, Sky subcriptions etc, all the stuff that you don't waste your money on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1156.

    People thought relativity was a waste of time - well...without Einstein's theory, your GPS would be off by thousands of miles after a week. Einstein himself couldn't fathom what we'd be able to achieve with his work. Just as we cannot fathom the world of 2050. Well I can...I will be streaming illegal alien pornography via Mindband (internet connection via neural router)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1155.

    What a surprise. Discovered by the machine specifically designed to discover it – and just ahead of the Yanks too! That should keep the funding coming in for a bit longer, eh?

    It seems that this particle has enormous spin, and a huge charge – to the taxpayer. All in all, a fairytale ending – or perhaps there's more.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1154.

    More of this please. Brilliant minds, gathered from around the world, proposed a project that would cost billions. The purpose: A deeper level of knowledge about our universe. Result: Delivered! Money well spent. In fact, all this talk of bonuses - I would complain if these scientists did NOT get a generous bonus, in fact, I wouldn't mind putting £20 in a whip round, this knowledge is free!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1153.

    Although it hasn't been confirmed fully yet, scientists are smart enough not to jump to conclusions without high certainty. Whatever this is, it will certainly cement or change our understanding in some way, and I'm glad that something as big as this has happened in my lifetime; it has been a bit quiet on the physics frontier recently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1152.

    If Einstein had heeded calls to stop "wasting his time" and to focus on "something useful" we wouldn't the technology of today.

    The fact we may not have been able to foresee the benefits of this work does not undermine it. To think otherwise demonstrates a remarkable lack of vision.

    It's terribly sad to see people use technology to condem the science that led to that technology to begin with!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1151.

    This is a waste of money and is mostly a political circus with nothing to answer the global issues we face today. The world isn't in the state it is because of science but rather the poor application of science and this is a classic example. CERNs discovery is the International Space Station writ small or should I say large with the bill?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1150.

    1141. Stoke Dave

    Not sure discovering the Higgs Boson is going to tell us much about the Solar system that we don't already know.

    And religion has survived countless scientific discoveries by remaining in the gaps of our knowledge.

    It's worth pointing out though, that the more we know, the more we know we don't know ... so religion should make it through OK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1149.

    @jamsie, you must be joking!!!. You clearly have never worked with academics. These people have massive egos, they are titanically ambitions, incredibly devious, terrible cold. I suggest you have a walk along the corridors of the maths department at Imperial College, a morgue is even more welcoming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1148.

    Hmmm ... Virtually no one outside the tiny (arf arf) particle physics community comprehends the magnitude of this 'discovery', and for good reason; physicists' ability to describe the quantum world has reached the limits of language - analogy, simile and other tricks simply can no longer be found to describe or convey the nature of 'reality' ... Even the largest collider can't solve that one ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1147.

    #1129. Thats philosophy not science. As a biologist I get the same thing with evolution. Doesn't matter whether God makes the staph.auerus evolve antibiotic resistance or whether it happens spontaneously. What matters is that you accept bacteria CAN evolve and make the therapies that kill them. The guiding force behind evolution is a distraction from studying its effects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1146.

    To the Luddites and the Enviro-Taleban who'd have us all back in the caves; campaign against spending on chewing gum, pornography, banker's bonuses, the Olympics, Premiership footballers... go for all those and more first - then complain about fundamental research. Lasers? What use are they? Computers? What good are they? All that money wasted eh? This is a great day for science!


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