Higgs and all that

(No links from this post. Peter Higgs and his boson are in all possible media already and will take little finding.)

Edmond Halley predicted that his comet would come back, but never lived long enough to see it. Peter Higgs has better luck. Today he was in Geneva to hear, stripping out all the cautious stuff that scientists feel obliged to say, that the Higgs Boson exists. Two independent experiments have found it, and there will now be years of work scoping out its properties.

For one thing, it seems there may be several Higgses out there. Maybe, like neutrinos or Christians, they morph into another type periodically.

Anyway, we can be sure that even when these big questions get answered, the physicists will never tell the governments of the world that they have solved all the problems of the universe, so their budgets can be abolished.

However, it seems that on this basis, the miracle energy source, or something, that our new understanding might generate is some long way away.

But don’t worry about that. Today I have seen grown men and women applaud wildly at the use of the term “five sigma significance,” realising that for all practical purposes, this meant that the Higgs was now real science. All it cost was a few billion $, £ or € and the effort of 7000 scientists and even more engineers, plus some kit such as a magnet with more iron that the Eiffel Tower.

For that invisibly small outlay we got a new knowledge of the world we live in, especially the fields and forces that make it what it is.

So today your task is a simple one. Go through life with a bit of a swagger. After all, you belong to the only species we know that can think about these questions, let alone dream up the machine that answers them.

About Martin Ince

UK-based science and higher education journalist, big strengths in universities and university ranking, futures, media strategy and training, Earth and space sciences
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