The post title is from the best Higgs boson-related news headline I’ve seen thus far: “Higgs boson fever fills Cern with 24-hour particle people.” Awesome, non?
So, I know pretty much everyone had a childhood love of Madeleine L’Engle, and as I’ve mentioned before, I was pretty obsessed with the Time Quartet when I was little. In 4th grade, one of my classmates and I spent our recesses trying to build a tesseract based on descriptions of Charles Wallace’s work in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. In 6th grade, we read A Wrinkle in Time as a class (most exciting thing ever — reading one of my favorite books as an assignment — what kind of homework is that?), and I was so into it that I wrote up an explanation of how a tesseract worked for my teacher based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. I was sure I had the tesseract down. I wanted to be an astrophysicist when I grew up because astrophysics = Mr. Murry = interstellar adventure (logic! I had it.). In 8th grade I was obsessed with quarks. Yes, quarks. And I had all sorts of cosmic questions about the universe and religion and physics — which led me to philosophy and psychology and eventually literature and education — but through it all, physics has meant excitement, adventure, possibility, and at the heart of it all, wonder, discovery, and story.
Today was exciting. I watched the live cast of the new particle announcement from CERN, and of course I’m not a physicist, but I followed as best I could — the descriptions of the technological advancements from 2011 to 2012 that made finer tuned data analysis possible was pretty amazing, as was seeing the bump on the graph that was *it*.
The media knew in advance that something big had been discovered — after all, Peter Higgs and the original team had been called in to attend the event — but the question was the level of certainty in this discovery. What were the chances that this was a false positive? 4σ was considered to be good — 1 in 15,787 chance that the bump was a false positive. When they announced their result — 5σ, meaning a 1 in 1.7 million chance that it was a false positive — the room erupted. Overall it’s in a range of 4.9 – 5.1σ looking at all of the data, which is simply incredible.
A friend of ours is a particle physicist who used to work at CERN, and he attended the event. He said that the energy, not just in the room but all around where he used to work, was unbelievable. He specifically went to see Peter Higgs who began this research 50 years ago, retired in 1996, and was able to see his theory come to life. How wonderful is that — to be in your 80s and to see your life’s work realized?
The announcement was hours ago, and I’m still excited. Yay, science!
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