Cern: Higgs boson answer to come by end of 2012

Summary:The 'Shakespeare question' about whether the Higgs boson exists or not will be settled by Large Hadron Collider experiments by the end of next year, according to Cern director general Rolf Heuer

Cern researchers will have established whether the Higgs boson exists by the end of 2012, according to Cern's director general Rolf Heuer.

Large Hadron Collider at CERN

Scientists at Cern using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have said they will able to settle the existence of the Higgs boson by the end of 2012. Photo credit: Claudia Marcelloni/Cern

The hypothetical Higgs boson is thought to be responsible for giving elementary particles their mass. The question of whether it exists will be settled once the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has generated more statistics, Heuer told the International Europhysics Conference on High Energy Physics on Monday.

"We can settle the Shakespeare question of the Higgs boson — to be or not to be — by the end of next year," Heuer told the audience at the event in Grenoble. "To see it we have to have much more statistics, up to factor 10, to answer the question."

The Higgs boson has enormous importance in the Standard Model of physics, a collection of theories about how the universe works. The Higgs boson explains mass in the Standard Model and could indicate why some particles have mass and others do not.

Physicists at Cern have established that the particle, if it exists, has a mass of between 115 and around 140 giga electron volts (GeV), according to Heuer. This means that the particle could be a Standard Model Higgs, or could be a Supersymmetry Higgs. If the mass was beyond 450 GeV, that would rule out a Supersymmetry Higgs, said Heuer.

For the Higgs boson, we know everything about it, except if it exists.

– Rolf Heuer, Cern

Supersymmetry is a set of plausible but unproven theories that propose each known particle has at least one unknown partner. The Standard Model, on the other hand, describes how known particles and fields interact, albeit incompletely and with some peculiarities. Once discovered, the relationship of the Higgs boson to these models will be highly significant.

"We can exclude quite some range for the Higgs mass, and we have some intriguing fluctuations," said Heuer. "The probable mass of the Higgs boson is in a region of low mass... If we do not find a low-mass Higgs, then the Standard Model is no longer valid today.

"For the Higgs boson, we know everything about it, except if it exists," he added.

Physicists working at the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment (CMS) at Cern said on Friday that they may have observed the Higgs boson, but needed to collect more data to be sure.

"It should be noted that a modest excess of events is observed for Higgs boson masses below 145 GeV," said CMS physicists in a statement. "With the data we will collect in the next few months, we will be able to distinguish between the possible interpretations: the production of a Higgs boson or a statistical fluctuation of the backgrounds."

Fermilab experiments

Scientists at Fermilab in Illinois said they have also seen results that could indicate the existence of the Higgs boson. Fermilab hosts the Tevatron experiment, a particle accelerator along the lines of the LHC.

"If the Higgs particle does exist, then the Tevatron experiments may soon begin to find an excess of Higgs-like decay events," said Fermilab in a statement on Thursday. "With the number of collisions recorded to date, the Tevatron experiments are currently unique in their ability to study the decays of Higgs particles into bottom quarks. This signature is crucial for understanding the nature and behaviour of the Higgs particle."

Tevatron physicists also said they would be able to either confirm or rule out the Higgs boson by the end of 2012. Physicists at Fermilab have experienced a number of discoveries as the particle accelerator has neared the end of its life. On Wednesday, Fermilab announced the discovery of a heavy relative of the neutron, called a neutral Xi-sub-b, which is a particle formed of three quarks.


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Topics: Emerging Tech

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Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com, writing about all manner of security and open-source issues.Tom had various jobs after leaving university, including working for a company that hired out computers as props for films and television, and a role turning the entire back catalogue of a publisher into e-books.Tom eventually found tha... Full Bio

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