By the Blouin News Science & Health staff

Physicists confirm discovery of Higgs boson, but now what?

by in Environment, Research.

 Tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN

(Julian Herzog)

Earlier this month, physicists at CERN reported that they are almost certain the particle they identified last summer is the Higgs boson, thought to be responsible for infusing objects with mass. Since that monumental discovery, the Large Hadron Collider has been shut down for repairs and maintenance until 2015.  For those of us anxious for more Higgs news, CERN will release a series of videos over the next few months detailing every step of the process.

When scientists announced that they had found a “Higgs-like” particle in July, they were careful to couch their enthusiasm, and stressed the need for more tests.  In the intervening time, they examined the data from about 2,000 trillion more collisions, and declared at a conference this March that the chance that the particle was a statistical anomaly is now exceedingly unlikely.

The Higgs boson appears to conform to the assumptions about the particle predicted in the Standard Model, physicists’ theory describing the forces and particles thought to make up the universe. Some scientists are disappointed that the Higgs Boson is turning out to behave mostly as predicted — they had hoped that the particle would lead to new areas of inquiry. One surprising finding is that the Higgs has less mass than hypothesized — at 125 gigalelectronvolts, it is on the lighter end of the range set out in the standard model. After the maintenance at the Large Hadron Collider wraps up, there will still be plenty of Higgs-related subjects for physicists to explore.

The experiment that detected the Higgs boson is called ATLAS, and when it resumes the Large Hadron Collider’s power will have doubled, from seven teraelectronvolts to 14 teraelectronvolts. Physicists will use their hyped-up atom smashing ability to explore the String Theory concept known as “Supersymmetry,” which proposes that each elementary particle has an associated “superpartner.” Supersymmetry would also help explain dark energy and dark matter, entities that scientists think are important in shaping the universe, but which remain speculative.

When the initial ATLAS experiments were carried out, the Large Hadron Collider was running at only half power, due to a helium leak in 2008 and subsequent mechanical damage.  The Large Hadron Collider has been shut down since February, and engineers are working to help it achieve its full potential. The repair process is called “consolidation,” and some of the major projects will be to test and replace the magnets that direct the paths of the particles, and to add reinforced “shunts” to the connections that carry electrical current between magnets. (Faults in these connections accounted for the earlier helium leak and damage).

Technicians will also test for irregularities in the equipment and make several additional improvements to the accelerators and electronics. CERN has released the first video on consolidating the “splices” in the Large Hadron Collider. You can watch the video and follow for updates on their Web site.