We want to be surprised, CERN scientist says

The world's largest particle accelerator is getting an upgrade that will increase energy and the number of collisions

By , IDG News Service |  Science

At CERN, the staff is still high off of last year's announcement that tentatively confirmed the discovery of the Higgs boson, which scientists theorize is one of two types of elementary particles. Its existence is central to what is known as the Standard Model of particle physics. The LHC, in which protons are smashed together at high speed, was constructed as a way for scientists to attempt to create and study the Higgs boson and related aspects of particle physics. The announcement last July was very emotional because people had invested many years of their lives in discovering evidence of the Higgs boson, according to Goldfarb.

"We live in this world were we are studying all these things that are really important to us. But to see that the world got excited by that means there is an understanding that what we are doing is important," Goldfarb said.

The teams at ATLAS and CMS already had a hunch something big had been found at the end of 2011, when both said they had "tantalizing hints" in their respective Higgs hunt. That resulted in a lot of excitement. The teams at each detector work closely together there is also a healthy competition that leads to better results and a fair bit of anxiety, as well.

"What if they see something bigger and we don't, or the other way around. That results in a difficult situation were we have to doubt ourselves. But that's what we do, we doubt ourselves until nature hits us over the head," Goldfarb said.

But that's what nature did with the results that were presented in July last year. But irrespective of how ground breaking the Higgs boson announcement was, it is still a first step and a window to future discoveries, according to Goldfarb. The LHC is brand new, and it has tested itself very well, he said.

In fact, the Higgs boson discovery came earlier than many had expected, in part, because nobody expected the LHC to work so well, he said.

There is little doubt that last year's discovery has made the groundbreaking work of Peter Higgs, François Englert, Robert Brout, Tom Kibble, Gerald Guralnik and Carl Richard Hagen worthy of winning a Nobel prize in Physics.

"What is kind of sad is that there is no posthumous prize. That has always disappointed me, but that's their rules," Goldfarb said.

Belgian theoretical physicist Brout passed away in 2011. Up to three of the other contributors can share the prize, so the Nobel Committee for Physics and ultimately the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences have some hard decisions to make.

But all the people who were involved at ATLAS and CMS also deserve credit, from the people who build the detectors to the scientists who were involved with the measurements, Goldfarb said.

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