Why CERN Refuses To Say It Discovered The Higgs Boson

03.14.13 4 years ago 9 Comments

Scientists are notably fussy people who don’t fudge things. There are reasons for that: When you’re dealing with trying to understand the basic forces that hold the universe together, “good enough” just doesn’t really cut it.

Nonetheless, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN, because they have to be all French) is pretty sure they found a Higgs boson. They’re just not sure which one they found, if it is a Higgs boson and not just a quark being a total ass.

Let us explain.

The Higgs boson, colloquially and physicist-infuriatingly nicknamed the “God particle”, is part of what physicists refer to as the “Standard Model”, basically a theoretical construct explaining how particles interact. The key word is “theoretical”: Scientists haven’t seen one, but they know something like it has to exist or the entire model falls apart and they have to start all over again.

The Higgs boson is literally the only part of the Standard Model that hasn’t been confirmed: Doing so would be huge, because it would mean we finally have a full and complete model of particle physics, and that we won’t have to scrap decades of scientific work and start all over.

It’s also important because it explains a lot about why some particles have mass when they shouldn’t, why the weak force has no range, and other problems in particle physics that drive physicists nuts.

The problem is that there are multiple theories about the Higgs boson that deal with various issues in the Standard Model, and even models without it. So that means there isn’t just one idea of what this thing can actually do, but several, meaning the team has to do two things.

One, determine that they actually saw a Higgs boson, which is tricky for obvious reasons.

Two, determine how the particle they discovered actually acts, and if it is a Higgs boson, which model it actually fits into.

The short answer, for those who just want to know why the world isn’t changing already: It turns out identifying something humanity has never seen before and classifying its behavior is really hard! Who knew?

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