If you haven’t seen Particle Fever, I highly recommend it. It’s a 99 minute documentary on CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and the physicists behind the search for the elusive ‘God Particle’ – the Higgs Boson. And no, the documentary is not just for geeks. Its for anyone who’s wondered why something exists, rather than nothing. And if there are other universes out there. And what the heck is the Higgs Boson anyway.
Not that the documentary spares much time on technical details – instead it gives a face to the European Organization for Nuclear Research – or rather, several faces. Scientists from over a hundred countries collaborated on the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest particle accelerator, that started in September 2008, and in July 2012 announced the discovery of a new particle “consistent” with the Higgs boson.
This is as cutting-edge as it gets – CERN is a place where science is made. You do know, don’t you, that the World Wide Web was invented in CERN in 1989 as a way for scientists across the world to share data and communicate with each other? CERN put the World Wide Web software in the public domain in 1993, and the rest, as they say, is history.
So now that the Higgs boson – or at least a Higgs boson – has been detected, are the particle theorists happy?
Nope, not really. Nobody knows if this is the Higgs boson predicted by the Standard model, or something else entirely. Of course the Standard model is far from providing a complete picture of our universe anyway. The theory does not incorporate gravity. Nor does it answer burning questions that keep one awake at night like: what is dark matter? Where the heck did all the anti-matter go after the big bang?
Particle Fever showed physicists in one of two camps: proponents of supersymmetry (no, don’t ask me what that is) and those who believe in a multiverse – an infinite multitude of universes of which our universe is just one. So, either we’re really really special, or just really really lucky.
Supersymmetry predicts the mass of the Higgs Boson at 115 GeV. A multiverse theory predicts it to be 140 GeV. And guess what the data from the Large Hadron Collider actually showed it to be? 126 GeV, smack in the middle, neither predicting nor ruling out any theories.
The Large Hadron Collider is now undergoing maintenance and its next run, sending beams at higher energies, is scheduled for 2015. More energy, more data, more Higgs Bosons, and hopefully a few more answers than we have right now.