Monday, March 23, 2009

Higgs Slapping Starts Early

As I said in my A.A. Michelson Award acceptance speech, the search for the Higgs boson could turn out to be the 21st century null-experiment that supersedes the 19th century Michelson-Morley search for the aether. The big difference is in the amount of data that will be generated by the LHC, viz., 15 PB per year.

Since finding the Higgs in all those data will be like searching for the proverbial "needle," the pressure is on to justify the investment in the European machine (LHC-CMS for $10B) at CERN and the lack of investment by the U.S. Congress in the Texas Supercollider (SSC for $12B); much less than a bank bailout today. The proxy for the SSC is the aging machine at Fermilab. Because of the pressure to see something, I fully expect a lot of false positives to be reported and that will inevitably degenerate into arguments over confidence intervals for the data; just the kind of thing we discuss in the GDAT class next August.

However, I didn't expect things to really heat up until the LHC comes back online in the summer, after repairs to the collapsed superconducting magnets. In the meantime, however, the global economy has also collapsed and Fermilab is hurting for funds. So, while the LHC is down for the count, the Fermilab Dzero experiment is looking for the Higgs and getting in the news by setting some bounds on the energy ranges where the Higgs might live. Without getting into too much detail, the above diagram shows that the plausible range for the Higgs mass (mH) is 114 GeV < mH < 185 GeV (according to Fermilab). For reference, your analog TV set produces electrons that hit the screen with an energy of about 30 KeV. Mass and energy are directly related by Einstein's famous equation E = mc2, where c is the speed of light in vacuo.

This opportunistic move has set off a slapfest between some physicists at Fermilab and the CERN. If it's this ugly now, I don't know where it's going to go when those gaps close down to zero; apart from the obvious escape route that it's much heavier than 250 GeV.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

I would hate to see scientific research held back by the current global economic situation.