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Data Review Brings Major Setback In Higgs Boson Hunt 180

Velcroman1 writes "The quest for the elusive Higgs boson seemed over in April, when an unexpected result from an atom smasher seemed to herald the discovery of the famous particle — the last unproven piece of the physics puzzle and one of the great mysteries scientists face today. Scientists with the Tevatron particle accelerator at Chicago's Fermilab facility just released the results of a months-long effort by the lab's brightest minds to confirm the finding. What did they find? Nothing. 'We do not see the signal,' said Dmitri Denisov, staff scientist at Fermilab. 'If it existed, we would see it. But when we look at our data, we basically see nothing.'"
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Data Review Brings Major Setback In Higgs Boson Hunt

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  • What are the implications of such a particle not really existing in the first place? In terms of how we think our universe works?

    • Religious people will say "We told you that God isn't a particle".

    • If it exists where people are looking for it, it will confirm certain current theories. If it doesn't exist where people are looking, it damages certain current theories. If it doesn't exist at all, it calls for a complete rethink on many things.

      Basically, if the Higgs Boson exists where people think it does, it means our ideas about how the universe is constructed are well founded and once again science has provided evidence to back up its theories. If it doesn't, then that opens up doors for radical rethinks on those ideas, meaning possible new directions in which to go and new theories to seek evidence for.

      • Perhaps some aspects of current physical science need to be re-visited? Like maybe the Euclidean point that was the initial state of the universe was not a point at all? Maybe there is no need for a Higgs Boson?

        • Some aspects of current science always need to be re-visited, and science in general isn't touchy about doing so.

          There may not be a need for Higgs Boson as you suggest, but the current theories suggest that there is - which is why its being looked for. No one has yet come up with a credible alternative that doesn't first throw out the entire current model, and quite honestly its currently cheaper to spend the money looking for the Higgs Boson than it is recreating the entire current model from scratch and coming up with evidence to support the change.

          But the chance that the Higgs Boson might not exist is not a reason not to look for it - because looking for it will either prove it does exist, or that it doesn't exist where we thought it did. Both outcomes are beneficial, and just because we didn't find it doesnt mean the money was wasted - the fact that it wasn't where we thought it was is great science in itself, because it brings new data to the table.

          Plus of course the chance that other discoveries may be made during the hunt for the Higgs Boson.

          • quite honestly its currently cheaper to spend the money looking for the Higgs Boson than it is recreating the entire current model from scratch and coming up with evidence to support the change.

            Not completely true - because the new theory must first account for known phenomena, and thus can use existing data (and at virtually zero cost).

            • The data might be there, but you just sent thousands of scientists off on a theoretical goose hunt and cast doubt on every large scale experiment currently running.

              Data already gathered might not cost anything, but the effort to come up with a new model which fits the current data plus the new results which invalidated the old data might cost billions of dollars in time and further experimentation. Or it might result in a small tweak over a couple of days.

              • The data might be there, but you just sent thousands of scientists off on a theoretical goose hunt and cast doubt on every large scale experiment currently running.

                No I didn't. I started with one guy, or a couple guys that get a flash of inspiration over a beer, or a handful at a weekend BBQ or a conference. You're correct in assuming there is unlikely to be a large scale assault - you're incorrect in assuming that's the only possible route.

                • Riiight - because every scientist in the world instantly gets together and decides precisely which small group of them owns the problem, and the rest of them leave it alone? No.

                  It may end with a flash of inspiration at a BBQ, but it certainly doesn't wouldn't start there. The moment a major theory is invalidated, every scientist working on a research project is going to investigate as to how its going to affect them, and many will work on the problem themselves.

                  Science isn't done by committee, its done by

      • Only a small fraction of scientific theories would be damaged by not finding the Higgs Boson.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by m50d ( 797211 )
      The elegant standard model of particle physics only works because the particles don't have intrinsic mass (they get their mass from coupling to the higgs field). This allows a symmetry between the three "families" of particles (electron/muon/tau, neutrino/mu neutrino/tau neutrino, up/strange/top, down/charm/bottom etc.)

      So if there is no Higgs boson then we're certainly missing something. I'm not sure if it's possible for the Higgs field to exist and not carry particles; certainly you'd normally expect for p

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2011 @12:38PM (#36402360)

      First, to be clear: the Fermilab people haven't shown that the Higgs boson doesn't exist. They just didn't find it.

      If the LHC doesn't find it, then we can start saying it doesn't exist. That would pretty much invalidate the standard model [stackexchange.com] of particle physics, which is the currently best-accepted theory we have (because it gets most things right). If the standard model is wrong, it opens the door for other physical theories [stackexchange.com] to be considered. Right now we're not taking those other theories so seriously because they all get one thing or another wrong, but if the standard model is also wrong about the Higgs, then there's no particular reason to favor it over other theories that also get one or two things wrong.

      • by halivar ( 535827 )

        As a followup question (again, I ask out of ignorance): is it even possible for the existence of the Higgs-Boson particle to be falsified?

        • Depends on what you mean by "falsified".

          Can the LHC team fake it? Certainly they can, but it would be a complex fabrication - if their results showed that the HB fell outside of the limit of anything other than the LHC then independent verification would be impossible until another collider in the LHCs class could be constructed to run the same tests. In the mean time, as support for their findings, the LHC team would be pressed to release the raw data from the collisions - terabytes of data that would ne

          • tip: google Karl Popper.

          • I think he meant falsified in the scientific sense as in "possible to disprove through experiment."

          • Falsifiability [wikipedia.org] is when you describe an experiment that would show your theory to be false. Falsifiability is a requirement of a valid hypothesis. Gravity would be falsified by showing that objects with mass didn't accelerate towards each other - if you could show that, you disprove gravity. Evolution is falsified by watching a species spring from nothing. Creationism can't be falsified because "it's all God" - anything that happens that you didn't expect, God could've done - which is why creationism isn't science.

            It's not about fabrications or hoaxes. The GP's question (I hope) is whether somebody could construct an experiment that shows that the boson *doesn't* exist, at least not as we understand it.

            • I'm still shocked by this outrageous quote from the summary

              the last unproven piece of the physics puzzle

              maybe according to the Current standard model...maybe...but hardly the last physics phenomenon that exists, even at microscopic levels.

          • I thought he meant "is it possible to prove the Higgs Boson doesn't exist?".
        • Yes, it is expected to be in a certain mass range, have a certain spin (zero), a certain electric charge (zero), a certain color (none - "color" refers to strong force charge), and so on. The LHC can sample all the "places" it is expected to be, and can prove it doesn't exist. Now, of course, somebody can come after that with a different theory, with a different particle and name it after Higg.

          IANAP by the way.

      • by TopherC ( 412335 )

        I'm way behind on this discussion but it looks like people are misinterpreting this report. The CDF experiment at Fermilab had reported last April on a possible observation of a new particle. They say that it is *not* a Higgs candidate, but could be something else (even more startling than a Higgs, such as a supersymmetric particle). Something with a mass of about 140 MeV/c^2 appears to be decaying into W and two quarks. This report is here: http://www.fnal.gov/pub/today/archive_2011/today11-04-07.html [fnal.gov]

        TFA i

    • by Mr_Huber ( 160160 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @12:56PM (#36402634) Homepage

      Currently, things weigh more than they should. The mass of a particle is a function of the kinetic energy of the particle and it's component parts, if any. If we run the numbers, we get good masses for some particles, not good masses for others. A proposed solution to this problem is the Higgs field, a nonzero field that permeates space. Anything coupling with this field gains additional mass through interaction with the field.

      Picture a person at a party. Normally, they are free to move through the party fairly easily. Now make that person famous. Admirers flock around, and the celebrity has trouble moving. Nonfamous people are particles that do not couple with the HIggs field. Celebrities are particles that do couple with the field, surrounded by a paparazzi of virtual Higgs particles.

      Nice theory. It fills a gap in the standard model and now the math all works. So now we have to find the particle. You need the mass of a particle to find it in an accelerator. Roughly (very roughly), you need to create collisions where the sum energy of the little explosion is about that of the particle in question, then watch a statistically large number of those to see if something matching your particle appears. If it does, it's off to Stockholm for dinner with the king. If not, it's back to the drawing boards.

      The problem is, the theory doesn't predict the mass of the particle. It doesn't even say if it is one particle, a family of similar particles or a family of different particles. So there's a wide spread of masses to examine. And all the masses are really high, far higher than any other existing accelerator could reach. So we have the new CERN experiment, slowly scanning the possible masses, looking for the particle.

      If we don't find that particle, then we're back to square one, why are some particles heavier than predicted? For decades, we've assumed it was some sort of variant of the Higgs boson. But if that's not the case, it's back to the blackboard for more theories.

      In general, this is a problem for particle physics. Finding or not finding the particle will affect chemistry, biology and general astronomy not at all. It might or might not have an affect on cosmology, but that's hard to say without a particle to talk about. More interesting for cosmology is that while searching for the Higgs, the experiment might come across more esoteric things, such as evidence for supersymmetry. Evidence for supersymmetry would automatically generate the prime number one candidate for dark matter. And nailing down the properties of dark matter would give us another probe of the Big Bang.

      More information than you wanted probably, but I hope it helps.

      • by halivar ( 535827 )

        Thanks. I think I grasp the rudiments of it now.

      • Picture a person at a party. Normally, they are free to move through the party fairly easily. Now make that person famous. Admirers flock around, and the celebrity has trouble moving. Nonfamous people are particles that do not couple with the HIggs field. Celebrities are particles that do couple with the field, surrounded by a paparazzi of virtual Higgs particles.

        Analogy of the Year candidate!

      • by symes ( 835608 )

        No mod points, so wanted to say thanks!

    • by cfc-12 ( 1195347 )
      It means the universe has disappeared and been replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
    • by Suiggy ( 1544213 )

      It means we have to look to alternative microscopic theories to explain gravity, such as emergent entropic gravity and the holographic principle.

  • by The Living Fractal ( 162153 ) <banantarr AT hotmail DOT com> on Friday June 10, 2011 @12:18PM (#36402092) Homepage
    Sometimes not seeing what you expected is worth seeing in itself...
    • My exact first thought on reading the summary was "well, its not a setback, its just one place less to look!"

    • The lack of data itself is as interesting as a "Well that's odd" moment in other experiments.

    • I would agree, except no one expects that the Tevatron can generate a particle collision high enough in energy to show evidence of the Higgs Boson. It was one of the primary reasons that the LHC was built in the first place.

      The Tevatron not being able to find the Higgs is in the science community largely uninteresting. Now if the LHC doesn't see it then it may border on the realm of "unexpected" but even that means that the Higgs may not be present only at those energy levels. This would cast serious doubt

  • Budgets (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Baby Duck ( 176251 )
    I have a much cheaper device in my backyard that's good at finding nothing.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Good on them for trying and not looking for false positives. This is science, it's not easy or quick. I hope they stay encouraged and keep pushing human knowledge forward.

    Good job!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do you suppose it is that whenever there's a science related story posted to slashdot, it's always followed by a link to foxnews with some hyperbolic title like "Heartbreaker: Major Setback in Quest for God Particle"?

    Maybe slashdot should start defriending some of its own bimbots.

  • And of course... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by savanik ( 1090193 )

    When they don't find it at Fermilab, and they don't find it at the LHC, they'll just say we haven't got enough power yet, and we need to build another one with even more power.

    The Higgs doesn't exist. The arguments for it sound just like the arguments of the 'ether' back in the 1900's. The standard model is wrong. Go back and fix it with pen and paper before spending a few trillion dollars trying to figure out why scientists can't do math.

    • by The Living Fractal ( 162153 ) <banantarr AT hotmail DOT com> on Friday June 10, 2011 @12:25PM (#36402196) Homepage
      I disagree. Sometimes math fails (root: because we fail at math) and the only recourse is to smash things together to see what falls out.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Ever the optimist.

    • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardpriceNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday June 10, 2011 @12:28PM (#36402230)

      And of course you can provide evidence to back your assertion that the entire thing needs a rethink? Just from your comment, I'd rather give these scientists billions of dollars for the LHC than give you $10 for lunch.

      • What would count as good evidence that the standard model has a big flaw in it? When people started thinking the epicycle model was wrong, it happened for several reasons (paraphrasing Thomas Kuhn for much of this):
        By Copernicus' time, 1) there were a lot of accumulated observations that no one had during the first few hundred years, and new tools made those latter observations more accurate. 2) The formulas to calculate epicycles grew more and more complex to account for those

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          When people started thinking the epicycle model was wrong

          You ignore that the epicycle model is asymptotically true. Enough corrections and any theory would be as true as any other theory. The problem was that the epicycle model was not parsimonious and there was a vastly simpler way to describe the dynamics of bodies acting under the influence of gravity.

          There's an opinion that the standard model and the variety of proposed corrections to it isn't parsimonious. But it's not based on scientific evidence.

    • Ok. I'll ask "Why?" to all your statements.
    • Europe put a lot of money in to the LHC. I don't think it was meant to find anything except certain pockets to fill with cash.

    • If anything, this just shows me the way science should work. An assertion is taken, tested impartially and if found wanting it's discarded without a second thought. No emotion, no hysterics. Just science.

      Your worries about a huge conspiracy are shall we say...a tad loony?
    • by m50d ( 797211 )
      You know how they "fixed" the ether? It wasn't with pen and paper, it was by thinking about the implications, then doing the experiments (in particular, michaelson-morely), and then looking at the results. The same thing they're doing now with the Higgs.

      I don't think the Higgs exists either. But it's the best candidate explanation for observed phenomena. There is an upper limit on the mass of a standard model Higgs, and testing in the relevant range is reasonable; even if we don't find the Higgs, we'll like

    • by BitHive ( 578094 )

      When you get a sec can you jot down that math for us, I have some friends who are physicists and it sounds like they could use your help.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2011 @12:55PM (#36402612)

      Actually not. Naively explained so you can understand it, the Higgs mechanism to work needs a Higgs mass between 114 GeV upwards to ~170 GeV. Outside of that region things don't work and it's safe to say you have to look for better ideas.

      The reason why physicist think the Higgs boson is there it's because 3/4th of the idea has already been discovered, the W^+ , W^- and Z bosons. What is left of the picture is that 1/4 which correspondes to the Higgs in the electroweak theory. If there is supersymmetry there might be 5 Higgs bosons which would make the discovery of each of them a little bit more difficult. But hopefuly feasable in the LHC.

      If you let me, I would give an analogy*. Think of you trying to solve a puzzle, a very complicated one indeed. After years of work you manage to assambly a consistent arrangement of all the pieces that not only fits, also gives a pretty picture. All there's to find a piece that you lost somewhere in the room to put it in it's place. At this point you are pretty confident that the chances of it not fitting are small, and that you got it right. But physicist don't take this for granted, they wan't to find the piece and prove it. And if it doesn't fit, don't worry, we will work on the puzzle again.

      *NOTE: If needed the image of the puzzle can be that of a car.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      And what pray tell is the "right" math? There's kazillions of mathematical models, but only one that that actually fits reality - though simplifications can cover specific parts like Newtonian physics. You can't know if your model is accurate without testing. In fact, without observation you can't even guess at a model at all. That sometimes we think we know what's out there in the unknown is the rare exception to when we don't. If we're just going to sit around and think about it, we'll get no further than

      • You really can't know that there's even a single mathematical model that fits reality. Yes, it looks that way so far, but it's a starting axiom of science that there will be one and only one. It would be a very odd universe indeed if there were zero or more than one, but science doesn't reason its way to proving there is only one, science starts from that as a default assumption. Reasoning this to be true is a matter of philosophy, which can argue from axioms completely outside of science that math is not j

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          As long as there's some sanity in what applies where, disjoint models would be put into one. That's how it works without a theory of everything, we have models for the various forces that in their limited scope seem correct. And there's nothing saying the laws of the universe must be constant either in time or in space, just that there's some form of pattern we can describe. And I would say there's at least a partial pattern or we'd not have all the models we do have. Even probabilities like quantum mechani

    • by rthille ( 8526 )

      What I'd like to know (and it may be known, but what I know about this is from following it on Slashdot :-) is whether there exists (in theory at least) a disconfirming experiment for the Higgs Boson. Or is the only way to "prove" it doesn't exist is just to never find it.

      • The Higgs is predicted to exist in a certain energy range which the LHC will eventually explore completely. If it does not find the Higgs there it does not exist (though other interesting things may).

      • Not being able to find it in the limits of where it should be is a fairly good way of disproving it.

        But if that's not good enough for you, the next step would be to try to find observational evidence for one of the competing theories, of which there are already a few:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgsless_model [wikipedia.org]

        If you can find evidence of a model that doesn't involve the Higgs boson, then you can probably rule out the Higgs boson.

    • When they don't find it at Fermilab, and they don't find it at the LHC, they'll just say we haven't got enough power yet, and we need to build another one with even more power.

      1) The Standard Model predicts that the Higgs will be found within a specific energy range. The LHC is powerful enough to explore that entire range. Therefor if the LHC does not find the Higgs it does not exist.

      2) Finding the Higgs is not the purpose of the LHC. It's merely one experiment.

    • by starwed ( 735423 )
      It's a fucking embarrassment to slashdot that this troll is modded "insightful."
    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      The standard model is wrong. Go back and fix it with pen and paper before spending a few trillion dollars trying to figure out why scientists can't do math.

      And how do you know there's an problem with the standard model?

  • Floating point precision is slightly different between powerpc (64 bits and fused multiply and accumulate instructions) and x86 (80 bit internal results)

  • "So what was it, anyway? Something completely unknown and unexpected, Denisov said, which is what prompted Fermilab to drop everything and assign its top scientists to uncover an unfortunate truth: Someone forgot to carry a zero."
  • Um guys (Score:3, Funny)

    by voss ( 52565 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @12:47PM (#36402520)

    "I'm pretty confident that towards the end of 2012 we will have an answer to the Shakespeare question for the Higgs boson, to be, or not to be?" Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director general of CERN, said at Britain's Royal Society."

    Id be perfectly okay if you wait until 2013 to get your answers. Its not that I believe all these December 22,2012 things its just that
    some idiot who forgot to carry their zero might be stupid enough to rush something and accidentally cause some sort of catastrophe. Lets all just
    shut down all the accelerators on December 14th,2012 and give everyone a holiday until January 7th, 2013.

  • Not the Higgs (Score:5, Informative)

    by wuzzeb ( 216420 ) <wuzzeb @ y a h o o . c om> on Friday June 10, 2011 @12:48PM (#36402538)

    Sorry, the summary and title is just plain incorrect. This announcement has nothing to do with the Higgs.

    A few months ago, CDF claimed that they detected a new particle which could not be the higgs, but was speculated to be a new particle. As explained here [science20.com], it wasn't possible for the new particle to be the Higgs.

    Today DZERO announced that they did not see any signal where CDF claimed to see one. So one of the two projects has an error in their analysis.

    More info orig [science20.com], new announcement [science20.com], DZERO refutes [science20.com], another source [columbia.edu], even another source [blogspot.com]

    • by bflong ( 107195 )

      Will someone with mod points please mod the parent up?
      Only Fox News is trying to connect this with the Higgs... the bastion of science reporting that they are.

      • I've not noticed that Fox is worse at science reporting than average for general media (which is not to say that they are good at it...)

    • Today DZERO announced that they did not see any signal where CDF claimed to see one. So one of the two projects has an error in their analysis.

      Maybe the first party happened to observe a set of statistically anomalous events, which didn't re-occur when the second party looked into it. Like if I visited the desert for one day and it happened to rain, I might say, "we have reason to suspect this may be a wet climate," but as more people spent more days there trying to replicate my findings they would find

      • by hitmark ( 640295 )

        Well in this case it is not so much direct observation as trying to sort thru a whole lot of detected particles. Kinda like deciding to find one specific jigsaw piece in the box by sorting thru snapshots of the content of the box being tossed across the room. And while doing that they notice what looks like a 5th corner piece in what should be a square puzzle.

    • by renhwa ( 2254034 )
      This comment should be emphasized. The summary and title are way off the mark.
      1. This was not a data "review," but rather an entirely new analysis. Fermilab has two experiments that study proton-antiproton collisions, named CDF and D0. CDF published the original paper, and then D0 tried to verify their claims. Reproducibility of results is a tenet of science; having multiple ~independent experiments at Fermilab allows results from one experiment to be verified at another. This story demonstrates exactly w
  • I don't know why it is always referred to as "The elusive Higgs boson" when Einstein was able to so clearly point to its existence decades ago:
    Einstein proving that the Higgs boson can be found anywhere [tumblr.com]

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      There are birds everywhere, too, but unless you are very scientific in your approach, they will elude you.

  • Let's get things straightened out. About a month ago the CDF experiment at the Tevatron at Fermilab found a "bump" in their data. It was statistically significant and was unexplained. This "bump" cannot be the Higgs boson from The Standard Model because it has the completely wrong cross-section. This was a fully public result from the CDF experiment.

    About the same time there was a "leaked" abstract from an internal note from the ATLAS experiment at the LHC which claimed to have a signal for a Higgs boso

  • The Higgs, the Theory of Everything, the End Times - all on hold again, apparently:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/19550880/GUT-The-Grand-Unified-Theory-A-oneact-play-with-seven-blackouts [scribd.com]

  • If it were easy it wouldn't be worth doing.

  • They didn't fail to find the Higgs-Boson; they succeeded in discovering a way that the universe does not work.

  • The summary *could* mention that "an atom smasher" was the LHC at CERN... for some reason we need to know that the lab checking the data was Fermilab, that Fermilab has the Tevatron particle accelerator and that Fermilab is in Chicago but we don't need to know the name, location or equipment of the lab conducting the actual experiment.

    Hint: It's ok to acknowledge that important stuff happens outside the US.
  • If I remember some stuff I read a couple of months back, this bump on the tail of this particular distribution was seen in data taken at the CDF detector but *not* at D-Zero, which is a similar, complimentary detector on the other side of Fermilab's collider ring. So I suppose this isn't that big of a surprise. And now one supposes that LHC is back to being the only game in town for the Higgs.

    Sad in a way. Does this mean Fermilab will be ramped down and decommissioned before long?

    • the CDF bump has nothing to do with Higgs nor does this D0 result using about half as much data. Were the CDF bump real it would likely be indication of a Z' and physics beyond the standard model.
  • The CDF result had nothing to do with Higgs and to claim the D0 analysis somehow affects the search is not only misleading but flat out wrong. If this is anything at all it is a leptophobic Z'

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