Nope. The announcement this morning (EDT) is an historic event in the history of science.
The Standard Model was first written down in 1967 when I was a junior in high school. Nobody noticed (the model, not just my junior year) and it was referenced only a handful of times during the next 5 or so years…and only by its author, Steve Weinberg.
It subsequently became the most precise description of nature in the history of mankind.
Let’s say that again: the model tells talented theorists how to make predictions of measurable quantities in the quantum realm better than anything ever enunciated – many, many decimal places. That precision is matched by incredibly capable particle detectors invented and built by dedicated experimenters. With predictions that came true and a unification of 2 – and then 3! – of the 4 known forces of nature, it became frustratingly impregnable. All of us have spent our careers confirming – while trying to disconfirm – the “Standard Model.”
Weinberg’s theory (and Sheldon Glashow’s and Abus Salam’s) predicted the existence of a very unusual field…a field with the quantum numbers of the Vacuum – a “chip” of the Vacuum, if you will – and a field responsible for the Just So Story…of mass. If the theory is right, there was a time soon after the Big Bang when the concept of mass had no meaning. If the theory is correct…Mass was Born about a picosecond after The Beginning when the Higgs Boson condensed out of the maelstrom that was the early universe.
From that moment, matter had mass.
Since Nature is Clumpy: if there’s a field, then there has to be a particle.
So the Higgs Field requires the existence of a particle called the Higgs Boson. A most unusual particle about which the Standard Model provides no clue as to its mass. It could have been anything! How to confirm it?
Well the theory also knitted together dozens and dozens of fundamental and apparently disparate reactions all with parameters which are related to that Higgs Boson mass. Over these 40 years, the allowed predicted values for the Higgs mass…shrunk to a tiny spot.
That’s not discovering the Higgs Boson. Discovery requires very specific instruments capable of looking over all possible mass ranges. So only in the last decade, direct searches at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois and at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland were mounted in part to directly search for the Higgs Boson. We did this by eliminating all possible masses – “Is it there? Nope. Is it there? Nope.” – while at the same time looking for its characteristic signatures. These signatures began to emerge in a region of mass that stubbornly refused elimination. A smaller and smaller region of mass. Guess what?
Like when the trans-continental railroad met at the same point from the West and from the East…today we’ve seen the convergence of this amazing story: the correlations of the many different measurements that constrained the hypothetical Higgs boson mass (from the West, say) has today overlapped with the positive results of those Higgs-like characteristics announced at CERN with the actual mass value of what must now be considered to be the real Higgs Boson (from the East?).
For my hundreds of colleagues and friends over decades: If you ever measured a cross section of a neutrino interaction; the mass of the W or Z boson; the ways in which these bosons decay; the mass of the top quark; the decay of the top quark; or any asymmetry in atomic physics to the highest energies available….you participated in the discovery of the Higgs Boson.
These efforts consumed the careers of nearly every particle physicist, including yours truly, since essentially 1973 – at a dozen national laboratories on 3 continents. Every civilized country in the world has participated. Literally 10s of thousands of physicists -– about a third of whom stay in research – and about 2/3 of whom go to other productive careers in the world’s economy – spent decades doing this work.
Today it’s come together. We understand something really important now about our Universe. We’ve witnessed how one of the most remarkable products of pure thought has been slowly, exquisitely confirmed by experience. This does not happen often. It happened today.
The physicist parties are over…and it’s back to work because this Higgs business is just beginning. There are more stories that it has to tell! Important ones. Now that we’ve got it, we have to take it apart and search for cousins (there could be more than one!) and follow the physics to the next steps in order to understanding deeper mysteries, such as the eery dark matter and why there’s more stuff than anti-stuff in our Universe.
So. A marvelous story and I hope that non-experts can get a feeling for how important it is.
I never give a talk or teach a class without thanking the audience for the privilege of being supported by the public to do this work. So on behalf of all of us: We’re all vary grateful!