The Large Hadron Collider: We’ve Definitely Found the Higgs Boson

higgs-boson1In July 2012, the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland made history when it discovered an elementary particle that behaved in a way that was consistent with the proposed Higgs boson – otherwise known as the “God Particle”. Now, some two years later, the people working the Large Hadron Collider have confirmed that what they observed was definitely the Higgs boson, the one predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics.

In the new study, published in Nature Physics, the CERN researchers indicated that the particle observed in 2012 researchers indeed decays into fermions – as predicted by the standard model of particle physics. It sits in the mass-energy region of 125 GeV, has no spin, and it can decay into a variety of lighter particles. This means that we can say with some certainty that the Higgs boson is the particle that gives other particles their mass – which is also predicted by the standard model.

CERN_higgsThis model, which is explained through quantum field theory  – itself an amalgam of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s special theory of relativity – claims that deep mathematical symmetries rule the interactions among all elementary particles. Until now, the decay modes discovered at CERN have been of a Higgs particle giving rise to two high-energy photons, or a Higgs going into two Z bosons or two W bosons.

But with the discovery of fermions, the researchers are now sure they have found the last holdout to the full and complete confirmation that the Standard Model is the correct one. As Marcus Klute of the CMS Collaboration said in a statement:

Our findings confirm the presence of the Standard Model Boson. Establishing a property of the Standard Model is big news itself.

CERN_LHCIt is certainly is big news for scientists, who can say with absolute certainty that our current conception for how particles interact and behave is not theoretical. But on the flip side, it also means we’re no closer to pushing beyond the Standard Model and into the realm of the unknown. One of the big shortfalls of the Standard Model is that it doesn’t account for gravity, dark energy and dark matter, and some other quirks that are essential to our understanding of the universe.

At present, one of the most popular theories for how these forces interact with the known aspects of our universe – i.e. electromagnetism, strong and nuclear forces – is supersymmetry.  This theory postulates that every Standard Model particle also has a superpartner that is incredibly heavy – thus accounting for the 23% of the universe that is apparently made up of dark matter. It is hoped that when the LHC turns back on in 2015 (pending upgrades) it will be able to discover these partners.

CERN_upgradeIf that doesn’t work, supersymmetry will probably have to wait for LHC’s planned successor. Known as the “Very Large Hadron Collider” (VHLC), this particle accelerator will measure some 96 km (60 mile) in length – four times as long as its predecessor. And with its proposed ability to smash protons together with a collision energy of 100 teraelectronvolts – 14 times the LHC’s current energy – it will hopefully have the power needed to answer the questions the discovery of the Higgs Boson has raised.

These will hopefully include whether or not supersymmetry holds up and how gravity interacts with the three other fundamental forces of the universe – a discovery which will finally resolve the seemingly irreconcilable theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics. At which point (and speaking entirely in metaphors) we will have gone from discovering the “God Particle” to potentially understanding the mind of God Himself.

I don’t think I’ve being melodramatic!

Source: extremetech.com, blogs.discovermagazine.com

Evidence for the Big Bang

planck-attnotated-580x372The Big Bang Theory has been the dominant cosmological model for over half a century. According to the theory, the universe was created approximately 14 billion years ago from an extremely hot, dense state and then began expanding rapidly. After the initial expansion, the Universe cooled and began to form various subatomic particles and basic elements. Giant clouds of these primordial elements later coalesced through gravity to form stars, galaxies, and eventually planets.

And while it has its detractors, most of whom subscribe to the alternate Steady State Theory – which claims that new matter is continuously created as the universe expands – it has come to represent the scientific consensus as to how the universe came to be. And as usual, my ol’ pal and mentor in all things digital, Fraser Cain, recently released a video with the help of Universe Today discussing the particulars of it.

big_bangAddressing the particulars of the Big Bang Theory, Cain lists the many contributions made over the past century that has led this so-called theory to become the scientific consensus has come to exist. They are, in a nutshell:

  1. Cosmic Expanion: In 1912, astronomer Vesto Slipher calculated the speed and distance of “spiral nebulae” (galaxies) by measuring the light coming from them. He determined most were moving away. In 1924, Edwin Hubble determined that these galaxies were outside the Milky Way. He postulates that the motion of galaxies away from our own indicates a common point of origin.
  2. Abundance of Elements: Immediately after the big bang, only hydrogen existed and compressed into a tiny area of space under incredible heat and pressure. Like a star, this turned hydrogen into helium and other basic elements. Looking out into the universe (and hence back in time) scientists have found that great distances, the ratios of hydrogen to basic elements is consistent with what is found in star’s interiors.
  3. Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) Radiation: In the 1960’s, using a radiotelescope, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered a background radio emission coming from every direction in the sky, day or night. This was consistent with the Big Bang Theory, which predicted that after the Big Bang, there would have been a release of radiation which then expanded billions of light years in all directions and cooled to the point that it shifted to invisible, microwave radiation.
  4. Large Scale Structure: The formation of galaxies and the large-scale structure of the cosmos are very similar. This is consistent with belief that after the initial Big Bang, the matter created would have cooled and began to coalesce into large collections, which is what galaxies, local galactic groups, and super-clusters are.

These are the four pillars of the Big Bang Theory, but they are no means the only points in its favor. In addition, there are numerous observational clues, such as how we have yet to observe a stars in the universe older than 13 billion years old, and fluctuations in the CMB that indicate a lack of uniformity. On top of that, there is the ongoing research into the existence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, which are sure to bear fruit in the near future if all goes well.

big_bang1In short, scientists have a pretty good idea of how the universe came to be and the evidence all seems to confirm it. And some mysteries remain, we can be relatively confident that ongoing experimentation and research will come up with new and creative ways to shed light on the final unknowns. Little reason then why the Big Bang Theory enjoys such widespread support, much like Evolution, Gravity, and General Relativity.

Be sure to check out the full video, and subscribe to Universe Today for additional informative videos, podcasts, and articles. As someone who used to write for them, I can tell you that it’s a pretty good time, and very enlightening!

The Amplituhedron: Quantum Physics Decoded

amplutihedron_spanScientists recently made a major breakthrough that may completely alter our perceptions of quantum physics, and the nature of the universe itself. After many decades of trying to reformulate quantum field theory, scientists at Harvard University discovered of a jewel-like geometric object that they believe will not only simplify quantum science, but even challenge the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.

This jewel has been named the “amplituhedron”, and it is radically simplifying how physicists calculate particle interactions. Previously, these Interactions were calculated using quantum field theory – mathematical formulas that were thousands of terms long. Now, these interactions can be described by computing the volume of the corresponding amplituhedron, which yields an equivalent one-term expression.

theory_of_everythingJacob Bourjaily, a theoretical physicist at Harvard University and one of the researchers who developed the new idea, has this to say about the discovery:

The degree of efficiency is mind-boggling. You can easily do, on paper, computations that were infeasible even with a computer before.

This is exciting news, in part because it could help facilitate the search for a Grand Unifying Theory (aka. Theory of Everything) that manages to unify all the fundamental forces of the universe. These forces are electromagnetism, weak nuclear forces, strong nuclear forces, and gravity. Thus far, attempts at resolving these forces have run into infinities and deep paradoxes.

gravityWhereas the field of quantum physics has been able to account for the first three, gravity has remained explainable only in terms of General Relativity (Einstein’s baby). As a result, scientists have been unable to see how the basic forces of the universe interact on a grand scale, and all attempts have resulted in endless infinities and deep paradoxes.

The amplituhedron, or a similar geometric object, could help by removing two deeply rooted principles of physics: locality and unitarity. Locality is the notion that particles can interact only from adjoining positions in space and time, while unitarity holds that the probabilities of all possible outcomes of a quantum mechanical interaction must add up to one.

quantum_field_theoryThe concepts are the central pillars of quantum field theory in its original form, but in certain situations involving gravity, both break down, suggesting neither is a fundamental aspect of nature. As Nima Arkani-Hamed – a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. and the lead author of the new work – put it: “Both are hard-wired in the usual way we think about things. Both are suspect.”

In keeping with this idea, the new geometric approach to particle interactions removes locality and unitarity from its starting assumptions. The amplituhedron is not built out of space-time and probabilities; these properties merely arise as consequences of the jewel’s geometry. The usual picture of space and time, and particles moving around in them, is a construct.

Photon_follow8And while the amplituhedron itself does not describe gravity, Arkani-Hamed and his collaborators think there might be a related geometric object that does. Its properties would make it clear why particles appear to exist, and why they appear to move in three dimensions of space and to change over time. This is because, as Bourjaily put it:

[W]e know that ultimately, we need to find a theory that doesn’t have [unitarity and locality]. It’s a starting point to ultimately describing a quantum theory of gravity.

Imagine that. After decades of mind-boggling research and attempts at resolving the theoretical issues, all existence comes down to a small jewel-shaped structure. I imagine the Intelligent Design people will have a field day with this, and I can foresee it making it into the new season of Big Bang Theory as well. Breakthroughs like this always do seem to have a ripple effect…

Source: simonsfoundation.org

What Would Hyperspace Really Look Like?

hyperspaceRemember those iconic scenes in Star Wars when the Millennium Falcon made the jump to hyperspace? Remember how cool it looked when the star field stretched out and then the ships blasted off? And of course, every episode of Star Trek was punctuated by a jump to warp, where once again, the background stars seemed to stretch out and then hurl on past the Enterprise.

Yes, for generations, this is how people envisioned Faster-Than-Light travel. Whether it consisted of rainbow-colored streaks shooting past, or a quick distortion followed by a long, blue tunnel of bright light, these perceptions have become a staple of science fiction. But one has to wonder… in a universe where FTL was really possible, would it really look anything like this?

hyperspace3Using Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, four students from the University of Leicester produced a paper in January of last year where they theorized what a jump to light-speed would really look like. Based on the theory that the speed of light is the absolute threshold at which elementary particles can move in this universe, the four students – Riley Connors, Katie Dexter, Joshua Argyle, and Cameron Scoular – claimed that a ship that can exceed c would have an interesting view.

In short, they claim that the crew wouldn’t see star lines stretching out past the ship during the jump to hyperspace, but would actually see a central disc of bright light. This is due to the Doppler effect, specifically the Doppler blue shift, that results in the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light, shortening as the source of the light moves towards the observer.

Hyperspace. Nuff said?
Hyperspace. Nuff said?

As the ship made the jump to hyperspace, the wavelength of the light from the stars would shift out of the visible spectrum into the X-ray range. Meanwhile, Cosmic Background Radiation (CBR), which is thermal radiation that is spread fairly uniformly across the universe and is thought to be left over from the Big Bang, would shift into the visible spectrum, appearing to the crew as a central disc of bright light.

What’s more, even a ship like the Millennium Falcon would require additional energy to overcome the pressure exerted from the intense X-rays from stars that would push the ship back and cause it to slow down. The students say the pressure exerted on the ship would be comparable to that felt at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

red-shift-03However, if the ship in question took its time getting up to speeds in excess of the speed of light, there would be some interesting visual effects. Given how light and the color spectrum works, as a ship continued to speed up, the stars in front of the ship would experience blueshift (shifting towards the blue end of the spectrum), while those behind it would experience redshift (shifting towards the red end).

But the moment the threshold of light speed was passed, background radiation would be all that was left to see. And once that happened, the crew would experience some rather intense radiation exposure. As Connors put it:

If the Millennium Falcon existed and really could travel that fast, sunglasses would certainly be advisable. On top of this, the ship would need something to protect the crew from harmful X-ray radiation.

And as Dexter suggested, referring to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm for a cool $4.05 billion: “Disney should take the physical implications of such high speed travel into account in their forthcoming films.” I won’t be holding my breath on that one. Somehow, star lines look so much cooler than a mottled, bright disc in the background, don’t you think?

Hyperspace_HomeOneSources: gizmag.com, le.ac.uk.com

News in Science: CERN Getting an Upgrade!

CERN_upgradeNot that long ago, the CERN laboratory announced that they had found the first evidence of the Higgs Boson. After this momentous discovery, many were left wondering what would be next for CERN and their instrument, the Large Hadron Collider. While they had confirmed that what they had found was a Higgs Boson, it might not necessarily be the Higgs Boson. Other such particles might exist, and questions about how these particles interact and explain the nature of the universe still need to be unlocked.

Well, it just so happens that this past April, the researchers who run the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) decided to take it offline so they could give it some long-awaited upgrades. These upgrades will take two years and cost a pretty penny, but once they are done, the LHC will be almost doubled in power and be able to do some pretty amazing things. First, they will be able to see if their Higgs Boson is the real deal, and not some random subatomic particle simply imitating its behavior.

Peter Higgs (who proposed the Higgs boson), hanging out at LHC’s CMS detector
Peter Higgs (who proposed the Higgs boson), at the LHC

After that, according to CERN, they will take on the next big step in their ongoing research, which will consist consist of testing the theory of supersymmetry. Having demonstrated the Standard Model of particle physics to be correct, which the existence of the Higgs Boson confirms, they are now seeking to prove or disprove the theory that seeks to resolve its hierarchy problems.

Originally proposed by Hironari Miyazawa in 1966, the theory postulates that in nature, symmetry exists between two elementary particles – bosons and fermions – which are partnered to each other. Not only does this theory attempt to resolve theoretical problems stemming from the Standard Model (such as how weak nuclear force and gravity interact), it is also a feature of Superstring Theory, which attempts to explain how all the forces of the universe coexist.

universe_expansionFor some time, scientists have been trying to ascertain how the four major forces of the universe  – electromagnetism, strong nuclear forces, weak nuclear forces, and gravity – interact. Whereas the first three can be explained through quantum theory, the fourth remains a holdout, explainable in terms of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but inconsistent with quantum physics. Because of this, scientists have long sought out the missing pieces of the puzzle, hoping to find the subatomic particles and relational forces that could explain all this.

A number of theories have emerged, such as Superstring and Loop Quantum Gravity, but testing them remains a very difficult process. Luckily, by the time the LHC comes back online in 2015, not only will the researchers at CERN be able to confirm that they have found the real Higgs Boson, they will also have a far better shot at unlocking the greater mysteries of the universe…

Exciting news, I just wish it didn’t take so long to upgrade the darn thing! At this rate, it could be decades before we get to see gravitons, the other bosons, or whatever the heck those subatomic particles are that hold the universe together. I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to see how it all works!

universe

Source: Extremetech.com

The “God Particle”… Found?

For decades, physicists have been searching for the elusive Higgs Boson, the elementary particle which will either confirm or deny the Standard Model of participle physics. This theory, in essence, is a unifying principle that explains how three of the four fundamental forces of the universe – electromagnetism, weak nuclear forces, and strong nuclear forces – interact. Intrinsic to it all is the understanding that all matter, at its most basic level, is constructed out of sub-atomic elementary particles. These particles, such as quarks, electrons, and neutrinos, endow all matter with its most basic properties.

Thanks to growing research in the fields of astrophysics, thermodynamics, quantum theory and particle physics, most of the elementary particles needed to make this model work have been discovered. Only one – the Higgs Boson, aka. “The God Particle” – remained to be found. Given that it is this particle which explains why other elementary particles have mass, its existence needed to be confirmed to make the model work. For decades, it has remained theoretical, but all that may have finally changed.

As of this morning, July 4th, 2012, physicists working with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland believe they have finally found it! That is to say that the CERN Laboratory (European Organization for Nuclear Research) announced the formal confirmation that a particle “consistent with the Higgs boson” exists with a very high likelihood of 99.99994%. However, scientists still need to verify that it is indeed the expected boson and not some other new particle.

In other words, we may be one step closer to (as Stephen Hawking said) “Understanding The Mind of God”. Which, given the alternative – that there are more elementary particles than the Standard Model accounts for – is good news indeed. Given that scientists still haven’t come up with a solid Grand Unifying theory, which would explain how all four basic forces of the universe interact with each other (electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces and gravity), knowing that we can at least account for three would be good news indeed!

In the meantime, check out this video explaining more about the search for the “God Particle”:

Seeking “God Particle” (CBC.ca)