EUGENE, Ore. — (Dec. 13, 2011) — A seminar at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, attracted widespread attention early today in the U.S. (9:20 Pacific), as scientists came together to announce that they may have "restricted the most likely mass region" where the Standard Model Higgs boson may exist. (CERN News Release)
Physicists worldwide have been searching for the Higgs-boson since the first theory was put forth in the 1960s. The theorized Higgs-boson is a subatomic particle that may help to explain how quarks, electrons and other particles get their mass.
New York Times reporter Dennis Overbye began his first account of the seminar by writing: "Physicists will have to keep holding their breath a little while longer." (NY Times story)
News from the seminar quickly splashed down on news websites (a list with a taste of the coverage is below -- some links may be short-lived).
University of Oregon physicist David Strom, who currently serves as trigger coordinator for the ATLAS project and is based at CERN, was among those at the seminar.
In an email, Strom wrote:
"This morning physicists at CERN crowded into the main CERN auditorium like Oregon students queuing for Rose Bowl tickets. They were waiting for the seminars giving preliminary results from the ATLAS and CMS collaborations on the search for the Higgs Boson.
"The presentations included some results based on the entire proton-proton LHC [Large Hadron Collider] run that ended just six weeks ago. Both ATLAS and CMS see intriguing signals indicative of Higgs bosons with masses about 130 times that of a proton. It is too soon to conclude that the signals we are seeing are indeed from Higgs bosons and not some random fluctuation of the background or something entirely different.
"For example, simulations show that if we were to repeat our experimental run a hundred times, backgrounds from known physics would give us an ATLAS like signal about twice. The CMS result is slightly more likely to be the result of a background only fluctuation.
"Despite the festive mood in the auditorium, we will only celebrate a little today. We now have to begin preparing for the next proton-proton run that will start next March. In this run, we hope to collect four times as much data as we did this year. This will allow us to prove or disprove the observation of the Higgs in the decay channels presented today and allow us to search for rare and exotic decays of the Higgs."
Higgs bosons, if they exist, according to the CERN news release, are very short lived and can decay in many different ways. Discovery relies on observing the particles they decay into rather than the Higgs itself. Both ATLAS and CMS have analyzed several decay channels, and the experiments see small excesses in the low mass region that has not yet been excluded.
"Making sure that detector and the associated trigger are working optimally will be the top priority of the University of Oregon group.
"Currently, we have four graduate students and one postdoctoral researcher based at CERN. We work together with other Oregon faculty, researchers and graduate students who are based in Eugene. Our group, including my own stay in Geneva, is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy."
For a look at how international news media initially covered the seminar, see:
The Guardian (UK): We may have glimpsed the Higgs boson
As of 10 a.m. Pacific time, 675 versions of the story had been reported, according to Google News.