Ten years after the “monumental” discovery of the Higgs boson — the “God particle” that gives matter mass and holds the physical fabric of the universe together — researchers say there’s much more to learn about it.
The historic discovery of the particle was made at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the “Big Bang” nuclear smasher near Geneva – and announced exactly 10 years ago by Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
The progress made since then to determine its properties has enabled physicists to make great strides in our understanding of the universe.
Researchers have been able to measure the mass of the Higgs boson, a fundamental constant of nature that is not predicted by the Standard Model.
In addition, the mass of the Higgs boson, along with the mass of the heaviest known elementary particle, the top quark and other parameters, can determine the stability of the universe’s vacuum.
But researchers say there are still many unanswered questions about the particle, such as: Could it interact with dark matter and reveal the nature of this mysterious form of matter?
What generates the mass and self-interaction of the Higgs boson, and whether it has twins or relatives, are other questions that remain unanswered.
Higgs’ discovery was vital to the Standard Model – the theory describing the web of particles, forces and interactions that make up the universe.
Without the Higgs boson to give matter mass and weight, there could be no Standard Model universe.
Cern theorist Michelangelo Mangano said: “And while all the results obtained so far are consistent with the Standard Model, there is still plenty of room for new phenomena beyond what is predicted by this theory.”
Luca Malgeri, a spokesperson for CMS — one of the LHC’s two giant detectors, along with Atlas — said: “The Higgs boson itself may point to new phenomena, including some that may be responsible for the dark matter in the universe.
“Atlas and CMS are conducting many searches to investigate all forms of unexpected processes related to the Higgs boson.”
Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the discovery, Cern’s director general and then project leader of the Atlas experiment, Fabiola Gianotti, said: “The discovery of the Higgs boson was a monumental milestone in particle physics.
“It marked both the end of a decades-long voyage of discovery and the beginning of a new era of studies of this very special particle.
“I remember with emotion the day of the announcement, a day of immense joy for the global particle physics community and for all the people who have worked tirelessly for decades to make this discovery possible.”
Researchers suggest that answers to some of the outstanding questions could be provided by data from the LHC’s impending third run (Run 3) or from the major upgrade of the accelerator, the high-brightness LHC, from 2029.
“High-energy accelerators remain the most powerful microscope at our disposal to explore nature at the smallest scale and discover the fundamental laws that govern the universe,” said Gian Giudice, head of Cern’s Theory Department.
After scheduled maintenance and upgrades, the LHC was turned back on in April and is now running at full throttle, which could allow for proton collisions again.
A new period of data collection begins on Tuesday.
The LHC will run around the clock at record-breaking energy for nearly four years, offering more precision and exploration potential than ever before.
During the experiments, scientists will look at the nature of the Higgs boson with unprecedented precision and in new channels.
They will also study the properties of matter under extreme temperature and density, and they will look for candidates for dark matter and other new phenomena.
Andreas Hoecker, spokesman for the Atlas collaboration, said: “We will measure the strengths of the interactions of the Higgs boson with matter and force particles to unprecedented precision, and we will extend our search for decay of the Higgs boson to dark matter particles, as well as the search for additional Higgs bosons.”
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