Live-Blogging the Higgs Seminar

By Sean Carroll | July 3, 2012 11:18 am

A couple of us are going to try to live-blog the July 4 Higgs update seminars from CERN. This effort will be subject to the whims of internet connectivity, of course, but we’ll do our best. At the moment we have correspondents on at least three different continents (I [Sean] am at CERN, JoAnne is in Melbourne for ICHEP, and I think John is in California…), so hopefully at least one of us will be able to get through. We’ll just be updating this post, so keep refreshing. You are also welcome to try the CERN webcast.

Seminars proper start at 9am Geneva time (3am Eastern time, midnight Pacific time, 5pm Melbourne time). One from ATLAS, by Fabiola Giannoti, and one from CMS, by Joe Incandela. Then a press conference after. Remember what we’re looking for: how significant is the signal, do the two experiments agree with each other, does the rate agree with the Standard Model prediction, are different channels mutually consistent with each other.

If people ask questions in the comments there is some chance that we will try to answer them.

Has there ever been a scientific discovery (if indeed we will be able to call it that) that has been anticipated so far ahead of time? Can’t think of any off the top of my head. Fasten your seatbelts!

11:38 pm Geneva time (Sean): Preliminary thought #1: There is a “nightmare scenario” that particle physicists have worried about for years. Namely: find exactly the Standard Model Higgs and nothing else at the LHC. I personally assign the nightmare scenario very low probability. Not on the basis of any inside info, just on the basis of physics. We know the Standard Model is not right; there is dark matter, there is dark energy, there is baryogenesis, there are the hierarchy and cosmological constant and strong-CP problems. It can’t be the final answer. Seems to me much more likely that there is interesting physics at the weak scale above and beyond the Higgs, than we just get stuck with a vanilla Standard Model. Beyond this physics-informed prediction, there is the wishful hope that the Higgs itself leads directly to new physics. Most obvious example: in many (most?) models of dark matter as weakly-interacting massive particles, the dominant way that dark matter and ordinary matter interact is through exchange of Higgs bosons. If that’s how nature works, the Higgs is literally a portal from our world to another. This isn’t the end of the show, it’s merely an act break (as we say in the movie biz).

11:44 pm Geneva time (Sean): Preliminary thought #2: I am a mere theorist, and let me be as legitimately humble as I can be right here. Beyond the details of whatever may or may not be found, the LHC is a gargantuan effort undertaken by literally thousands of people over the course of years and in many cases decades. This moment, we hope, is something of a payoff for their perseverance. My hat is off to the experimentalists and engineers and technicians who really made it happen.

11:52 pm (Sean): I’m told that there will be a mirror for the webcast at NOVA (PBS).

12:04 am, Geneva time (Sean): Epsilon past midnight, and apparently people are queueing up already. Not me; I’m headed for bed.

5:34 am (Sean): Good morning, world! Anyone got anything going on today?

5:56 am (Sean): Shameless plug alert: physicist and friend-of-the-blog David Kaplan has been producing a feature-film-length documentary about the LHC and the quest for new physics. It’s called Particle Fever, and it’s almost ready to hit the festival circuit. Follow along at the movie’s Facebook page.

6:53 am (Sean): We’re here! Definitely a rock-concert vibe in the air, as folks have been camping out for a while to get into the auditorium. Doors still not open as yet.

7:00 am (Sean): Full disclosure alert: I’m not here in my capacity as a physicist, but my capacity as “media.” (Or just “rabble,” as Ian Sample puts it.) I’m writing a book, of course (did I mention that? Particle at the End of the Universe), but books don’t send you halfway across the world. I’m here with a tiny camera crew as part of filming a special for NOVA on the LHC and the Higgs. Very early in the process, so we don’t have a title or air date as yet — think six months down the road or so. So we didn’t even try to get in the main auditorium — that should be for the experimentalists and the LHC builders.

Looks like they are letting them in!

7:15 am (Sean): Riot narrowly averted as the delicately-organized queue collapsed, and some latecomers tried to cut in front of 100 people who had been camped out. Order temporarily restored!

7:26 am (Sean): From Facebook:

8:10 am (Sean): Had to get press credentials, which involved dashing to the registration building and back, sweet-talking a security guard to let us through a door we weren’t supposed to be going through. Guard: “Why is everyone in a hurry today?”

Some other ongoing live-blogs: SMU, Tommaso Dorigo, viXra, Résonaances, Aidan Randle-Conde, Ken Bloom. I suspect Matt Strassler will be chiming in, I bumped into him in the cafeteria. Any others?

8:26 am (Sean): Some folks have mentioned, and it’s worth repeating: we call it the “Higgs boson,” but Peter Higgs wasn’t the only one to invent the whole idea back in 1964. This was before electroweak unification, and the issue on people’s minds was whether a broken symmetry necessarily implied massless bosons, as Goldstone’s Theorem would have you think. Massless bosons are phenomenologically bad, because they give rise to long-range forces we don’t see. (QCD is an exception, but that understanding lay in the future.) In 1963 Phil Anderson argued on the basis of an analogy with superconductivity that the massless Goldstone boson could combine with a massless gauge boson to make a massive gauge boson, which is exactly right. But he didn’t have a scalar-field model, and he didn’t speak the relativistic language of particle physicists. So in 1964 three groups came out with relativistic models: one paper by Francois Englert and Robert Brout; two papers by Peter Higgs; and one paper by Gerald Guralnik, Carl Hagen, and Tom Kibble. Those six people shared the Sakurai Prize in 2010 for their work.

Most amusingly of all, because people cared most about getting rid of massless bosons, they didn’t put a lot of emphasis on the extra massive boson we now call “the Higgs.” It was Higgs himself that did draw attention to that in his second paper — and then only because the paper was rejected the first time he submitted it, and he wanted to beef it up a bit before resubmitting to a new journal. That beefing-up was the first explicit discussion of the Higgs boson.

8:51 am (John) Got it up on Evo at home – almost midnight here in California!

8:55 (Sean): Peter Higgs shakes hands with Francois Englert — loud applause.

9:01 am (John)Actually we have both feeds up…cool!

9:04 (Sean): Festivities begin. Master of ceremonies is Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN.

9:05 am (Sean): First talk is by Joe Incandela, spokesperson for CMS.

9:08 am (Sean): Good point that we already know something about what/where the Higgs should be, from indirect measurements.

9:10 am (Sean): They’re looking at five different modes for the Higgs to decay into: bottom/antibottom, tau/antitau, WW, ZZ, two photons. Consistency (and amplitude for each) will be key.

9:16 am (John): And how is the press absorbing all this Sean?

9:17 (Sean): Subtext here: particles in your detector don’t come with little labels telling you what they are, much less how they produced. Remarkable efficiency in identifying particles.

9:23 am (Sean): Press is a little chatty, frankly. :)

9:29 am (John): Should have dwelled on the money plot!! That was a nice view of the peak.

9:30 am (Sean): The big bump shown by Joe was in two-photon events (I think … hard to blog and watch). Those are only about 0.2% of Higgs decays, but they stand out above background quite well, unlike events with lots of jets.

9:32 am (Sean): Next-cleanest channel (after two photons) are events with four charged leptons, which come from making two Z’s, each of which decays into electron/positron or muon/antimuon. That’s even more rare, but again extremely clean.

9:34 am (Sean): I think any mention of “sigmas” thus far (four point something) is only for the two-photon channel! Haven’t mentioned combining yet…

9:36 am (Sean): Seeing something in four leptons, maybe 3.2 sigma.

9:37 am (Sean): Combining two photons and ZZ: five sigma! Consistent with 125 GeV Higgs. Applause. (Not in the press room.)

9:39 am (Sean): Now onto two W bosons. The best such events is when each W decays to a charged lepton and a neutrino. But that’s still not at all easy, because the neutrinos themselves are not detected; have to add up the energy and work backwards.

9:41 am (Sean): Slight excess in WW, a bit below expectation (just as ZZ was), but apparently not too much. Small statistics.

9:42 am (Mark): It is ridiculously early here on the East coast of the US, but I’m delighted to have been awake for the important plot, and the audience reaction to the mention of five sigma!

9:43 am (Sean): Now looking at decays to a bottom quark and an anti-bottom. It’s the most common Higgs decay, but very easy to get lost in the background.

Adding channels thus far: 5.1 sigma! (Five sigma, of course, is the informal threshold for “discovery.”)

9:45 am (Sean): And now for decays into a tau lepton and an anti-tau. Another tough one to pick out over the background. Joe is surprised that they did as well as they did.

And … no sign of a Higgs in that channel! Very small significance, but potentially a very intriguing result. Could mean that we have something Higgs-like, but not precisely the Standard Model Higgs.

9:46 am (John): First surprise – where are the tau pair decays?

9:48 am (Sean): Total significance: 4.9 sigma. It went down because of the absence of tau decays. But that could secretly be good news!

Mass = 125.3 plus/minus 0.6 GeV.

9:49 am (Sean): Huge question ongoing: are we seeing a standard Higgs with a couple of statistical fluctuations, or are differences in different channels the sign of something new? Easiest way to make different channels mismatch is to add new particles to your theory that couple to the Higgs, and enter as virtual particles that modify different decay rates. Full employment for both experimentalists and theorists!

9:53 (Sean): Next talk is by Fabiola Gianotti, spokesperson for ATLAS.

9:54 am (Mark): Expect a lot of theory papers in the very near future discussing possible explanations for the missing tau decays.

9:56 am (Sean): ATLAS is going to stick to the two-photon channel and the four-charged-lepton channel, the two most precise ones available. They won’t try to make sense of the messy channels right now. “Not mature enough to be presented today.”

9:59 am (Sean): “Pile-up” refers to the fact that the LHC collides bunches of protons, not just individual particles; at every crossing they get 30 collisions, and need to disentangle them. They weren’t expecting nearly so many collisions.

10:01 am (Sean): “Trigger”: for non-experts, there are far too many collisions and far too much data per collision to possibly save all the data to disk. The experiments throw out something like all but one out of a million events. Not randomly — they try to keep the ones that look interesting upon a very quick glance. That’s the job of the trigger.

10:05 am (Sean): Fabiola is working the crowd, but here in the press room they’ve just handed out the press release. ATLAS has a good result.

10:07 am (Mark): Even to a theorist, it was clear from discussions with our ATLAS group here at Penn what a huge issue pile up was. We’re not used to having a problem with too many collisions!

10:09 am (Sean): And now you can read the press release yourself!

10:11 am (Sean): Great talk, but seriously there shouldn’t be that much information on each slide! Particle experimenters need to do better at this.

10:12 am (Mark): I usually think the same when sitting in experimental particle physics seminars, but I was actually just thinking that these are two of the clearest presentations I’ve seen. Perhaps I’m more focused and excited than usual though.

10:12 am (Sean): Everything up to this point is to convince us that the result they have is a reliable one. They do understand what they’re doing. (Most of us weren’t skeptical.)

10:19 am (Sean): ATLAS result for the two-photon channel: beautifully clear bump in the data at 126 GeV.

10:20 am (Sean): 4.5 sigma in the two-photon channel, once we combine 2011 and 2012.

10:21 am (Sean): Crucial: the bump being seen is larger than expected! By a factor of two, approximately. Huge news. There isn’t a parameter in the Standard Model that you can tweak to explain that. It’s either a cruel fluctuation, or new physics.

10:25 am (Sean): On to four-charged-leptons, coming from Higgs to two Z’s.

10:28 am (Sean): Plot shows a tiny but discernible bump around 125 GeV. I know we’re practically in the post-Higgs era already, but all this consistency is very nice to see. (Consistency in where the peaks are located, I mean … still some issues in reconciling the tau/antitau data from CMS.)

10:33 am (John): Rather weak peak in ZZ for ATLAS! Hmm…still early days.

10:33 am (Sean): ZZ data from ATLAS, by themselves, represent an excess at about 3.4 sigma. Expected in Standard Model: 2.6 sigma. Interesting, or fluctuation? (I’m not including look-elsewhere effect, since I think we know where to look by now.)

10:34 am (Mark): Seminars frequently go over time. But as Gianotti correctly points out, they usually don’t have this kind of final slide to make you stay for!

10:34 am (Sean): Combining both channels from ATLAS: five sigma! Applause.

10:37 am (Sean): Expected achievable significance for SM Higgs: 4.6 sigma. Not sure how to reconcile that with the fact that the two-photon bump was twice the expected size. [Ah: it’s because the error on that height is substantial — maybe we shouldn’t make too much of it.]

10:40 am (Sean): Personal editorializing by me: we’ve found the Higgs, or at least a Higgs. Still can’t be sure that it’s just the vanilla Standard Model Higgs. The discrepancies aren’t quite strong enough to be sure that they really represent beyond-Standard-Model physics… but it’s a strong possibility.

Fortunately, we have a great accelerator working at full speed, and much more data to come! A proud moment for everyone who has worked to get us to this point.

10:37 am (Mark): So we have a five-sigma result from ATLAS as well! This was well-worth getting up for, if only to take part, at great distance, in the joyous applause at this slide.

10:38 am (John): BOTH experiments have a significantly enhanced rate for gamma gamma. My raw impression is that this is not very Standard Model like at all…this is the most important thing I learned tonight, without question.

10:43 am (Sean): Fabiola thanks Nature for putting the Higgs where the LHC could find it.

At the end of her talk, now there’s even applause in the press room!

10:46 am (Mark): Peter Higgs is visibly moved at the final results. I hope people understand, and perhaps this helps make clear, how invested scientists are in this work.

10:47 am (Sean): Not often you get to see history made.

10:49 am (Mark): Yep – it seems we have a Higgs. I’m off to ICHEP in Melbourne in a few hours, and will report in more detail from the presentations there.

10:52 am (Sean): Press release from Edinburgh is passing along this quote from Peter Higgs: “I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge.”

10:55 am (Sean): Here is the plot from CMS for the two-photon channel, from Phil Gibbs.

10:57 am (Sean): Some words from Lyn Evans (who built the LHC), as well as from Francois Englert (who laments the passing of his collaborator Robert Brout) and Peter Higgs. And I think that’s Guralnik and Hagen? (Kibble couldn’t make it.)

10:57 am (Mark): Nice that we’re getting a couple of remarks from the theorists. Lovely tribute from Englert to Brout, and Gerry Guralnik makes a nice point about seeing this kind of joy and excitement about science.

11:01 am (Sean): Now for the press conference. Probably no new revelations, but I’ll keep you posted.

11:10 am (Sean): Scientists enjoying their brief moment of celebrity, mobbed by reporters.

11:22 am (Sean): Joe Incandela says that we’re hoping by the end of the year to say whether the new particle is a scalar or pseudoscalar.

11:23 am (Sean): Peter Higgs gets asked a question, but declines to answer — he thinks this is a day when the experimentalists should be in the spotlight. Have to love that.

11:27 am (Sean): Fabiola and Joe agree that the mass measurements are compatible between the two experiments, given the error bars.

11:28 am (Mark): Interesting, and great, that they may be able to distinguish scalar from pseudoscalar by the end of the year.

11:29 (Sean): Actual news: DG Rolf Heuer reveals that they are now planning to extend this year’s run for another 2-3 months. The plan is to shut down at the end of this year for a two-year upgrade, so this gives a bit more opportunity to collect data.

11:37 am (Sean): Have we found the Higgs boson yet?

11:50 (Sean): A couple of people have mentioned supersymmetry. As Rolf Heuer just said, straightforward SUSY models have a remarkable feature: not a single Higgs boson, but five Higgs bosons. So we may have only have found 20% of the Higgs conglomerate.

12:00 (Sean): Here are some technical plots from CMS and ATLAS.

Here is the ATLAS two-photon plot.

And here’s the CMS result for four leptons.

And the ATLAS result for four leptons.

12:07 pm (Sean): We made it this far without anyone saying “God particle.” That admirable streak just came to an end.

12:20 pm (Sean): Winding up. What a day. So amazing to see such interest in fundamental physics. Hopefully we have some new puzzles to solve!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Higgs, Science, Top Posts
  • Steve Smith

    Thanks for live-blogging Sean and others. First, a “boson fever” quote from Bob Park:

    After 200,000 years or so of putting up with imposters, the creator has
    been exposed. CERN will hold a press conference with the details tomorrow.

    Next, a question: What does the mass say about standard model theories that predicted a “light” Higgs?

  • NR

    If the observed rates do not agree entirely with the standard model, what are some of the most immediate (conservative) conclusions physicists might be able to make about physics beyond the standard model (i.e, to what extent are beyond-SM theories sensitive to Higgs production rates at these energies, if at all?)

  • James Youngman

    I suspect that the discovery of the law governing the motion of the planetary bodies was anticipated for at least 250 years. Nobody knew the form of the law though, just as nobody (except maybe the CERN folks) yet knows the mass of the Higgs boson.

    If we confine ourselves to measurements of quantities (such of mass or speed) relating to things we’re reasonably sure about but not certain (such as the Higgs boson or the finite speed of light) then another obvious candidate is the gap between Romer’s estimate of the speed of light in 1676 and the explanation by Einstein of the constancy of the speed of light around, what, 1905. Though maybe I’m overstating this second example, since James Bradley was reasonably close in 1729. Though AIUI that’s still longer than we’ve been anticipating the measurement of the mass of the Higgs.

  • Neal J. King

    James Youngman:

    About a hundred years separate the death of Copernicus and the birth of Newton. Since Copernicus’ book was published just before his death, it will be hard to pull 250 years out of that gap.

  • cormac

    What about the discovery of atoms? I admit there was only a gap of a few years between Einstein’s Brownian motion paper and Perrin’s measurements, but the ‘atomists’ had anticipated the result for decades

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  • Sean Carroll

    Steve– Depending on what the result is, some of those theories might have been wrong! (Note there can be more than one Higgs.)

    NR– The Higgs is both produced and decays, in many instances, via virtual particles of one form or another. By adding new kinds of particles, we can potentially boost or suppress the production rate in different channels. Beyond that, details will matter.

  • Aiya-Oba

    Thanks for the rare energy you bring to science, Dr. Carroll.

  • Alex Wozniakowski

    In such rare times I am elated to experience the scientific community’s fervor, as an undergraduate in physics I showed up late for the observation of an accelerating universe (painful since I want to be a cosmologist). Nonetheless, the aforementioned comment is a preliminary to my draw, the announcement of a new particle’s discovery “on” July 4th, a day reserved to celebrate American independence. Innovation and hard work throughout various fields have propelled America into the nation, which its citizens so proudly exude. Now this comment is by no means a conspiracy of Cern’s plot to spoil precious BBQs, rather an allusion to the possibility that the Superconducting Super Collider could have been competing with LHC for the discovery. With competition comes the chance to win, and America could have been pulling in top tier minds to the land of big belt buckles and abroad; instead Americans and scientist worldwide must trek to Europe, the birthplace of modern physics.

    Before anyone tries to mention this point, I’ll have to beat you to it, yes I realize the LHC is partly funded by America. Furthermore, I must digress saying this has been one of the best days of my young life; and I hope to experience more of these as Physicist get closer to a fundamental understanding of Nature.

  • meh B. etheridge

    ENJOY! 😀

  • Dan Schroeder

    Now that anthropic arguments are no longer taboo in physics, is the hierarchy problem still a problem? Or to turn it around, would a pure Standard Model Higgs be further evidence for some version of the anthropic principle?

  • meh B. etheridge
  • Sean Carroll

    Dan– People have tried to explain the Higgs mass anthropically (e.g., but I don’t think it’s very popular. Given that it’s been very hard to pin down the mass of the Higgs, it would be hard to argue that it must be at some value in order for us to be here.

  • Sudip

    Dear Sean,

    Thanks very much for the live-blogging. I have a question: why new physics is expected at the electroweak scale? Can’t it be the case that sign of new physics appears only at GUT/Planck scale?

  • Sean Carroll

    It could be, but I doubt it. Hints from the hierarchy problem and dark matter problem, at the very least, point to the EW scale as a very interesting place to look.

  • David Lau

    Hi Sean
    Must be exciting to be at CERN. I hope I will be able to view the liveblogging on CERN Webcast tonight at 12am. Also hoping that it will be either a discovery claim or a rejected claim about the Higgs Boson. Wonder what Peter Higgs is thinking right now?

  • jay

    Thank you, Sean.
    This news made on prime TV in Canada, Univ. of BC’s TRIUMF group is part of the team.

    My guess is that Higgs boson found, but not quite fits the standard model ;0)

  • Sudip

    Sean#15 Can you elaborate a little more about the hints? Or if you can point me to some journal reference that would be great.

    • Sean Carroll

      Little too hectic right now, sorry. Just google “hierarchy problem” and “weakly interacting massive particle.”

  • Gavin Flower

    WIMP: “weakly interacting massive particle.”

    Lovely misleading acronym!

    Far too excited by the imminent announcement about the Higss, to concentrate on work today, now 5:15pm New Zealand time.

  • backAlleySUSY

    I’m in the main auditorium, camped out since 12. So glad I made it in! where are you Sean?

    • Sean Carroll

      I’m undercover, in the press room. Leaving the real auditorium to the real LHC people!

  • JoAnne

    Having technical difficulties getting onto the site here. They opened up the main auditorium here at ICHEP in Melbourne (seats 700) 30 mins in advance. There were guards at the door and they were checking badges closely. It is 10 mins to 5 PM and the auditorium is full. A hush just came over….. Lots of media here.

  • andyo

    Was that Peter Higgs at the CERN webcast just a minute ago? Everyone applauded.

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  • andyo

    I think the Wired feed is being pulled from CERN, it’s probably the same one, but at the CERN page itself in the bottom there’s another link to an alternative webcast.

  • Mandeep

    Watching this live is pretty cool. :-) (Working fine for me right now, 12.04am, PDT)

    Adding more to my comment over time (12.09am): nice that Incandela is funny too – man, is he revved up! No surprise. But i’ve rarely seen a physicist this excited.

    In my remaining minutes of being able to edit, i cross-post part of what i wrote at FB today, (remember, this is for laypeople-type friends) – not quite as hopeful as Sean’s post at the start, but i hope i’m wrong!

    “Just posted the below to a group here on FB as a response to an announcement about the CERN webcast tmrw about the Higgs — i do think they will announce a > 4 sigma, and maybe up to 5 sigma result, so it’s time to think about what this all means for HEP (high-energy physics).

    Interested in peoples’ thoughts and opinions about this, particularly my friends working in HEP..?


    “Yeah – as a former particle physicist as i’m sure a good number on this list are — this *is* really going to be a major day.

    It’s not exactly unexpected — for some time, the signal has been getting stronger, and this is exactly what we would expect for a SM (Standard Model) Higgs. Though we won’t know if it isn’t the lowest mass SUSY (supersymmetric) Higgs for a while, until the couplings are all carefully checked.

    But given that *NO* other SUSY signal has been hinted at yet (and indeed, nothing else BTSM = beyond the SM), there’s no especial reason to think it’s anything but the SM Higgs — which will then give no further insight in the short term to questions like the hierarchy problem, or why there are 12 matter particles and 4 forces, or going beyond that, if GUTS or string theory or extra dimensions have any resonance in our world. Basically – we don’t really get any hints about the essential structure of matter beyond the picture we’ve had for 40 yrs, essentially.

    [I’d analogize it a little to if dark energy turns out over time to look more and more like a straight cosmological constant — it gives little insight into what LCDM is all about, how it came to be this way (multiverse ideas excluded, anyway). And it’s *not* generally what cosmologists generally hope to find in the coming years.]

    In fact the *only* hint of BTSM physics we have right now are neutrino masses, which don’t fit in the SM (which only has left-handed Dirac neutrinos, and for mass, right-handed partners, or a Majorana nature, are needed). But of course – that’s a very different endeavor and sphere than what we’re looking at in high-energy collider physics.

    So yes – it’s exciting at some level to finally be seeing this particle that’s been searched for for *so* long.. but i know a whole lot of particle physicists would have preferred to either see nothing than just one SM Higgs (which may push the resolution of all the problems far beyond the energy reach of any conceivable collider in the near-term). And pretty much all of us would’ve preferred to see *something* new and different.. of which there is currently, alas, no hint.

    Just some opinions to keep in mind when the announcement happens tmrw, with all the accompanying hullabaloo..!”

  • Subir

    Thanks for the live blog. I am not able to access the CERN webcast. Is there any other site who are putting it on air??

  • Lost Browser

    Thanks for live blogging and then stopping once it got interesting

  • lqd

    @ Subir–
    Did you try clicking on “alternative webcast” at the bottom of the CERN webcast page? If that doesn’t work either, try switching browsers.

  • Adam

    John’s update just erased a few of Sean’s! Crossed wires…

  • Subir

    It’s the port problem.

  • Jerry Johnsen

    This is good work, Sean. Thanks!

  • Mandeep

    There it is — at 12.29am — he announced it was at 4.1 sigma, i do believe.

    And then — combined gamma gamma and ZZ –> 5 sigma at 12.37am. And i’ve never seen that kind of applause for a result at *any* seminar i’ve ever been at! This is a spectacular moment in the life of a physicist, for sure. The only moment that i can think was similar for me was seeing the Super-K results in 1998 confirming strongly the neutrino oscillations (and hence neutrino mass).

    Wow – there it is.

  • Subir

    @Sean … hard to blog and watch.

    Yes it is.

    Tell us how many sigmas is the signal?? More than 5??

  • Mandeep

    I see John and Sean’s hopeful comments above about the tau mode.. what *I* took away was in fact in the last couple of slides he showed that the couplings looked like SM at the 95% level… (and now i’m going to sleep! Will have to get the upshot about the rest tmrw.. Last comment: the woman speaking for ATLAS is quite sharp and presents very clearly and crisply.)

  • John Conway

    Comic sans lives!!

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  • lqd

    My immediate reaction to this momentous moment in physics: Comic Sans? Really?

  • Bob F.

    Speaker for CMS said “we have discovered a new boson with a confidence of 4.9 sigma”.

    Agree about the speaker for Atlas. She’s very good.

  • Rich

    Thanks for the live coverage Sean and company. Exciting stuff. Looking forward to the book and Nova special!

  • Satan Claws

    It’s very frustrating to see the video webcast team showing the audience instead of the slides at key points! The slides it’s what we’re here for, not the faces…

    I also agree with Sean that physicists have to do a better job at controlling the pile-up of text in the slides.

  • Rho_Cassipeiae

    ATLAS need to go to Power Point 101 class so as to not produce messy slides.

  • cormac

    Re ‘nightmare scenario’, excellent discussion, don’t hear these points often enough. Another the point is the value of 125 GeV; my understanding is that this value is in itself a hint of physics beyond the SM.(and something of a conflict with the lack of evidence for SUSY particles)

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  • Phillip Helbig

    I didn’t have time to watch much (it seems to be over now). Can someone post a link to the complete presentation? (Hopefully someone can at least stick it on YouTube or whatever.)

    “My immediate reaction to this momentous moment in physics: Comic Sans? Really?”

    Maybe the “ban comic sans” crowd can use this as an example of how to mar a great discovery with comic sans!

  • Rho_Cassipeiae

    Agree with John – Higgs yes – SM – doubtful.

  • pnut

    isn’t the excess of two-photon events a less than 2-sigma discrepancy? If you have 5 independent channels, it would be natural that one of the channels shows such a fluctuation.

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  • Anca

    I was just wondering what kind of software they are using to analyze all their data, I don’t suppose each collision is analyzed manually.

  • James Salsman


    That dark matter will turn out to be black holes that is hardly a “nightmare scenario,” unless you count the fundamentalist congresspeople who will try to use theorists’ foolish flirtation with the anti-empiricism of WIMPs as a reason to cut funding for evolution education, radiochemistry, and probably sex ed and birth control. But is a beautiful enough result to distract them, I hope, and seals the deal.

    If there are about a million 100,000 stellar mass black holes in the galaxy as Paul Frampton says, they surely protect us from rogue planets just as Jupiter and Saturn protect us from comets. Hardly a nightmare!

  • V H Satheeshkumar

    Who will get the Prize? Experimentalists? Theorists? Which three theorists? Or a theorist and two experimentalists?

  • Phillip Helbig

    @53: Are you really RLO? Also note that the Higgs has nothing to do with dark matter.

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  • James

    2 questions:

    1)The LHC is fine-tuned to look for the Higgs and certain other things. How concerned should we be with the possibility of missing things we’re not looking for? At this level of technical challenge and precision, how able are we to do a “clean sweep” to find whatever particles may be there?

    2) Today is the most important day in particle physics since… when? How do we think it measures up against the top discovery, or the discovery that neutrinos are not massless (after all, the latter is actually a fracture in the SM, not a confirmation, like the Higgs is).

    • Sean Carroll

      James– It’s not really fine-tuned for Higgs at all. In fact, it’s not a great machine for looking for the Higgs! It was really just a matter of perseverance.

      It’s the most important discovery in particle physics since the 1970’s, depending on what you would count.

  • James Salsman

    Phillip, “RLO”? Did you miss Sean’s 11:38 pm Geneva time explanation of the dark matter connection?

  • Sherman Dorn

    So if the 125 GeV particle runs back and forth in the way everyone is hoping, carrying little packets of mass, could we call it the dog particle? Or the golden-retriever particle?

  • Phillip Helbig

    There is nothing above with an 11:38 timestamp.

    Sorry, but WIMPs, black holes and dark matter in a context where it is not expected makes me think of RLO (who is known to post as a sock puppet as well).

  • Roger

    Sean/James – the LHC experiments were designed with the Higgs in mind. It was their primary mission. The designers certainly didn’t expect (at the time of design) this particular mass as being the most likely but made sure they could cover it. In recent years we took Higgs for granted and shouted more about speculative ideas like SUSY and extra dimensions. However, the LHC was always about the Higgs.

    Regarding the question about missing things, there is certainly a risk that an obscure (or something we currently think of as obscure) signal could be missed owing to the challenges of managing the data rate. We of course try to avoid this by making sure we can make generic searches for new physics independently of model motivation. However, this will never be 100% safe. Right now nobody is talking about “lost physics” although that may well just be because nobody has thought of a model giving rise to measurable observables at the LHC which could have been missed.

  • meh

    I’m watching Brook Baldwin (the most ignorant news anchor alive) try to explain why the discovery of the “God Particle” may be the most important discovery ever, followed by the 90’s “proud to be an american song”…I wish I was in Geneva. Thank you for giving us the best coverage we could get. sending this blog to everyone…

    5 variations of the Higgs has got my mind fired up, I’m going to be so spaced out today.

  • meh

    next up….We have to build particle detectors and a particle collider on the moon. I’m serious. Good luck to all of us.

  • cormac

    Many thanks for the plots. I watched the seminar and couldn’t help noticing that, even on today of all days, we physicists have a lot to learn about performance
    (i) the lights were far too bright, kills the atmosphere
    (ii) camerawork was poor, kept showing the speaker when it should show the slides and vice versa
    (iii) far too much material on the slides, obscured some very important points
    (iv) the two talks were longer than they should have been, leaving no time for what could have been a really interesting Q&A session amongst professionals (and who was going to volunteer an ‘urgent’ question?)

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  • martenvandijk

    A new particle has been observed. It has a certain quantity of mass. Where does it get its mass from?

  • Bob F.

    martenvandijk: I’m sure the professionals here can answer better than I can, but as I understand it, the Higgs boson is subject to the Higgs field, itself. That’s one reason it was so hard to find — its mass could have been anything.

  • meh

    It has a certain quantity of energy. They say it has a certain quantity of mass, but it’s really that they can’t observe a size with the particle. 126 GeV could occupy the spatial volume of a proton or it could occupy the spatial volume of a planet (for example). Mass is the measure of energy per unit of volume (somewhat). The question you really are asking is “where does it get its energy from?” , which because of the laws of conservation, boils down to “where does energy come from?” The answer is unobtainable at the moment because no physicist is touching that question with a 39.5 foot pole, though everyone has their own personal theory.

    To complicate things, the unit of volume used is the speed of light in a vacuum; so believe people when they say that particle physics really is difficult to comprehend…because my brain is mush right now from trying to explain it in layman’s terms.

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  • martenvandijk

    @Bob F. and meh.

    Thank you. What I understand from your answers is that my question is not stupid.

  • Phillip Helbig

    Comic sans, Sean Carroll, many-worlds-interpretation of QM (maybe):

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  • Higgs Boson


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  • Sachi Wilson

    Thanks for the clear and fascinating report, gang! I may be just a dilettante in physics these days but this is a wonderful day, and I’m enjoying it thoroughly. I particularly like the hints of more things to explore – such fun!

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  • OMF

    Can any intrepid bloggers explain why finding the Higgs is fundamentally different to finding other particles up to this point, like for example the Top Quark? Is it just the energy levels or does the Higgs represent an entirely new class of theoretical particle altogether?

  • Entropy


    The top quark is important, sure, but its discovery was implied by the discovery of the bottom quark, and so it was far less exciting than the Higgs, which could very not even have existed. If the top quark had NOT been discovered, that would have been more confusing and depressing than anything else. More of a WTF than OMG, if you’ll pardon the expressions. :)
    The Higgs is extra important since it is a central part of the Standard Model’s fundamental structure: symmetry groups with local gauge invariance followed by symmetry breaking due to the Higgs. The Higgs also “knows” about any particle that gains mass due to its field. If there is a particle out there that we don’t know about, we can detect it by observing deviations from Standard Model behavior in the the Higgs.
    Finally, many extensions of the Standard Model predict funky things in the Higgs sector, like minimal supersymmetry predicting 5 Higgs, and so Higgs weirdness can serve as a critical test of many of these theories.

    The Higgs is also harder to find because it is not a quark, meaning you can’t make it directly from the strong force, and its dominant decay (to bottom quark pairs) is swamped by overwhelming strong force background. You need to look for the Higgs, already difficult to make, in ultra-rare decay paths to see it.

  • meh

    The Higgs Boson is likely the reason why the universe is not still a heaping mass of cosmic microwave background energy. baryogenesis or some junk.

  • meh


    nope, not a stupid question at all. Nobody has the answer. The new particle is exciting because it’s the discovery of a new force carrier particle, it’s one step closer to to understanding the forces of nature and possibly unifying them.

  • meh

    Force carrier particles are how all other particles interact. One of the fundamental concepts of physics, the Principle of Superposition, is also reinforced. You know how in time travel movies when they say that no two objects can be in the same place at the same time, well, no 2 fermions (Quarks n’ stuff) can be in the same place at the same time; but 2 bosons can be in the same place at the same time. Bosons are how the forces of nature exist and regulate the interactions between differing bodies of matter. Finding a new boson says there is a lot more to the forces of nature than we know…which we already..knew (“allow myself to introduce…myself”), because we’ve been trying to unify gravity with quantum mechanics for a while now.

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  • Suresh Pathakkara

    Great day for science.Kudos CERN !

  • martenvandijk

    @ meh (83)

    We have learned from local observations on the planet Earth with the help of atomic clocks that time is a measure of gravitational strength. Mass also is a measure of gravitational strength. The StandardMmodel Higgs boson is the alleged mass-maker. Where does time come in? I am afraid that the real missing link in modern physics is time.
    “I could be wrong now, but I don’t think so!”

  • Mike Guerin

    Wow, they have reached the 5 sigma mark! Need party emoticons!



    I think it’s interesting that as time has passed today, the comments have shown less “irrational exuberance.” As a very rank amateur at this stuff, I was excited enough to get up at 3am to watch the show.

    What I heard was a lot of uncertainty – correcting for errors and bias, smoothing of plots, certain expected particle decay wasn’t seen, adjusted probabilities, etc., and a semi-firm conclusion that basically says if we got this bump it has to be Higgs boson. I would think it’s hard to hang the future of physics on such a weak finding. But I know you people will be working hard on confirming it.

    I know you have the theories that predict this stuff and confirming the theory is the way of science. But I wonder if you have let mathematics lead the way instead of nature itself. Maybe there are things out there that have their own mathematics. Where’s the wonder of a “real” discovery that was unexpected?

    I predict that soon you will find another particle you didn’t expect – that’s the fun of it.

    Thanks to Sean for his work and to all of you who have commented – it has helped me a lot.

    PS – someone above noted that the physicists have to do a better job of communicating with the public (and probably even themselves) and he/she was right.

  • Thomas

    Disseminating science through the media first always strikes me as somewhat suspicious.
    Let’s wait and see whether there is more to this than the detection of faster-than-light particle not too long ago.


  • Valdis Kletnieks

    The slide that floored me the most was the one that said something along the lines of “we expected 30 events, and found 24”. Out of the *billions* of events they were generating.

    I wonder what experiment could you do to verify that this particle is in fact the mass-mediating boson that was predicted, and not some random non-boson that the Standard Model can’t explain? (Yes, I know the fact that they found the predicted 2-photon and 4-particle decay patterns are *already* a confirmation. I’m talking about a “if it is indeed the mass-mediating particle, in a collision this wreckage should curve left, and if it isn’t it will curve up and to the right” type predictions…)

  • MKS


    never forget how you are feeling and thinking at your rock concert — these feelings and thoughts are generated by you :3

    This is all pretty awe-some — esoteric science is being globally celebrated :3 That oughta keep the cynics and pessimists of ‘science is dying’ and ‘rationality is dying’ at bay…

  • James Salsman

    Should anyone be inclined to reconsider black holes as dark matter (*cough* light element big bang mucleosynthesis ratios *cough*), I note that six of the references posted to comments at support non-primordial Frampton 100,000 stellar mass black hole dark matter.

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  • Josh

    Can someone explain exactly what is being shown in all those plots? I have no idea what the y axes represent, in general, and how the expected curves are calculated, and what is actually measured to produce them.

  • Dan Schroeder

    Sean, I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “pin down”, but I didn’t mean to suggest that an anthropic argument might predict the Higgs mass with any more accuracy than it was known 30 years ago. I’m just suggesting that if you’re open to anthropic arguments, then the gauge hierarchy “problem” probably isn’t valid evidence against a pure standard-model Higgs (and then nothing but a desert up to the Planck scale). Or, turning it around, if the LHC discovers no other new particles and hence suggests a desert, won’t that push theorists toward anthropic solutions to the hierarchy problem?

  • Brian137

    Great job guys (Sean, John, and Mark). Thank you very much.

  • Michael

    Just curious: does anyone know if now there are any plans to look for Higgs fusion (HH->anything) at ~250 GeV? Seems to me that would tidy up the last two tree level SM interactions (cubic and quartic Higgs interactions) to be tested. I’m guessing the backgrounds are terrible?

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  • Jackie M.

    Sean (or anyone else who feels the inclination), could somebody blog at a middle-to-high level about the “dark matter/energy problems” in more detail and in light of these results? What these results do and don’t rule in/out, what still needs to happen, where the likely physics may come from? Assume I’m an astronomer who should be paying attention to particle physics, but totally hasn’t since senior year undergrad. *ahem*

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  • Entropy

    @ Michael

    The Higgs in any Higgs fusion process are virtual, meaning that an event loses the “wow!” factor of other events involving the Higgs, which are necessarily high energy. So, they look just like any other process that can produce the same particles (I think it’d be just W and Z pairs). In general, production rates in the Standard Model are not known to perfect precision, and Higgs fusion only makes a tiny, tiny adjustment to the much larger contributions of other particles.

    That being the case, I think it makes more sense to look for the inverse processes, virtual Z or W pairs fusing to Higgs pairs. In this case, you’ve got the distinguishing features of the Higgs decay to tag the events. Of course, this is equivalent to verifying the existence of the other process, since hh > WW implies WW > hh etc. and vice versa. Since single Higgs production by vector boson fusion is small, Higgs pair production by vector boson fusion must be absolutely tiny, but I’m not sure if it’s no-go small or just really, really small.

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  • Michael

    @Entropy: Thanks. I guess that makes sense.

    I’m not up on my collider phenomenology. :) I plan to study it when I get some more free time. Speaking of which, what’s a good SM phenomenology book (pitched at about the same level as Peskin&Schroeder, say)? Even better if it covers non-perturbative stuff.

  • addicted

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the blog. This is awesome. However, I am a little confused about the triggers. If they only pick up “interesting” data, and are not random, wouldnt the results we get be biased in the first place? Or do the statistical calculations account for that?

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  • Phillip Helbig

    “could somebody blog at a middle-to-high level about the “dark matter/energy problems” in more detail and in light of these results”

    As far as I know—and someone more knowledgeable please correct me if I am wrong—the answer is: nothing at all, i.e. these results have nothing to say about dark matter or dark energy (which, in Sean’s words, is a horrible term; I think it should be called the cosmological constant until we prove it is not (i.e. different equation of state), though Sean’s term “smooth tension” is also quite good). As to dark matter and dark energy in general: there is a lot of easily available information.

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  • JW Mason

    There is a “nightmare scenario” that particle physicists have worried about for years. Namely: find exactly the Standard Model Higgs and nothing else at the LHC.;.

    And this is what happened, right?

  • In a parallel universe I can’t handle my liquor

    “the Higgs is literally a portal from our world to another. “.. Nice. The Higgs field would be the gateway to parallel universes? The multiverse? The Higgs particles/field should be most or all of what constitutes a blackhole? Suspending the Higgs field in front of a space ship should enable it to travel at light speed?

  • Edward Starr

    What a phenomenal day for science and our ongoing attempt to understand the fundamental aspects of what our universe is and how it works. Thank you, Sean, for taking the time to communicate what is happening there at CERN and answering questions.

  • Dan Schroeder

    JWM: It’s far too soon to tell, but that’s certainly a possibility.

  • Earl

    A long standing mystery in physics is the equality of gravitational mass and inertial mass. Does the existence of the Higgs field/particle explain this? Would this be a promising research area for theorists?

  • Brett

    I’ll chime in Phil at #108,

    I don’t think you can jump to the conclusion that the results have nothing to say about dark energy or dark matter without having more info. One guess is as good as another though.

    Where does Sean call it smooth tension?

  • Paul

    Sean, can you please comment on Martinus Veltman lecture, where he states that Higgs boson discovery poses a great problem for cosmology:
    “The Higgs field normally produces a value for Λ far, far from the observed
    magnitude. Typically the cosmological constant produced by the Higgs
    system produces a Universe with a size of about the order of the size of the
    head of a theorist (≈ 15 cm radius). The observed cosmological constant is
    about a factor 10−55
    or less times the value produced by the Higgs system.”

  • ohwilleke

    The ATLAS 4l data points are surprisingly jumpy relative to the SM expectation at high GeV values. Clearly, the Higgs boson signal is missing a higher masses in the chart, but it does seem as if something might be going on in excess of the ZZ background at higher energies. Eleven of the thirteen highest mass bins are at or in excess of background expectations and many are substantially above background (three are outside of the error bars). Query what kind of omitted decay process could produce that.

    The CMS 4l chart error bars show, IMHO, the really problematic aspects of using as Gaussian statistical modeling of low value whole numbers where a Poisson distribution is more appropriate, but the posted chart doesn’t look at this less well behaved higher energy regime.

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  • martenvandijk

    @ Earl (114)

    As I understand it, it is a mystery why Einstein claimed that endogenous gravitational mass is equivalent to exogenous (“the lift”) inertial mass.

  • backAlleySUSY

    Who said anything about Gaussian statistical models? All error bars are calculated as sqrt(N) (for a Poisson distribution), believe it or not particle physicist are pretty well-versed in probability and statistics.

  • martenvandijk

    The new particle is innocent of mass-impregnation unless proven guilty without a shadow of doubt.

  • christina knight

    In spite of the exuberance over the recent discovery, it is not yet definitively clear what has been discovered. Some web sites and blogs have been honest enough to admit this uncomfortable truth (although they remain in the minority). There is no question that something interesting has been found, but I am still betting that it is not the Higgs. Instead I think it reveals that there is a greater complexity to the space-time structure than has been previously conceived of. In fact it may be the first indication of evidence of a hierarchical stratification of the space-time geometry (which provides the extra-dimensional structure that is suggested by string theory). christina anne knight

  • Phillip Helbig

    Various answers:

    Smooth tension: somewhere on this blog

    Equivalence of graviational and inertial mass: GR explains this, so it is not puzzling that Einstein claimed this. (More precisely, GR explains the equivalence of inertial and passive gravitational mass; active gravitational mass is another question.)

    Veltman: This is the well known cosmological-constant problem and has nothing, per se, to do with the Higgs.

  • Entropy

    @ Michael

    I don’t know any great books on experimental particle physics.

    You could try to learn by doing if you have the computer chops (if you’ve read Peskin and Schroeder and know enough particle physics to be curious about Higgs fusion, you definitely have the necessary physics knowledge to get started). Download a (free) Monte Carlo simulator like MadGraph 5, read the wiki as necessary, simulate some processes (tree level only, so the Higgs stuff is pretty limited; start with simple stuff like top pair production), and see what happens. It’ll give an idea of what’s feasible and what’s not.

  • christina knight

    Instead of the Higgs it is possible that what has been found is an interstratum, intermediate boson that would fit in with a model of hierarchically stratified space-time geometry. In this model space-time consists of three strata comprising 12 dimensions (9 space and 3 time). Because of the stratum dependent variation in the constant c, there is a stratum dependent variation in the effects special relativity has on the the motion of particles as they oscillate through the tri-stratum structure. At the energies produced at LHC the strata are compressed and there is a brief synchronization between the strata that produces (very briefly) an intermediate boson that almost immediately decays.

  • max

    Ok, I have to complain somewhere. Is there anything we can do about the crazy amount of Higgs Hyperbole™? The NY Times is reporting that it’s “a key to understanding why there is diversity and life in the universe”, and earlier they were saying that it explains how the universe began. Really nytimes? I think that the media is encouraging the crazies more than usual.

  • martenvandijk

    Max, don’t complain, don’t worry about those nytwits, be happy about my enriching your language with a new word :-)

  • Bob Iles

    I don’t know who elected Stephen Wolfram (whoever he is) to be the “smartest man in the world,” but some people here might be interested in reading why he thinks that the discovery of the Higgs boson is a “big disappointment.” (Wolfram apparently got a Ph.D. in physics at CalTech at the tender age of 20. Woohoo! A child prodigy!)

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  • backAlleySUSY

    @ christina

    We know from the boson channels that it has integer spin, but not spin 1 (there is some theorem to exclude this). Since theories with fields with spin greater than 2 are nonrenormalizable that only leaves spin 1 and spin 2 fields, so that what we know at this point. This means the resonance could still possibly be a KK gravitron or composite higgs or random theory X but… we have an enormous amount of evidence for the SM (probably the most successful theory in history) and zero for these other theories, so I can’t see how anyone could assume it’s anything other than a SM higgs.

    @ Michael

    Check out Collider Physics (frontiers of physics). Sorry I don’t remember the authors but you should be able to find it. I think it’s what you’re looking for. But you won’t find any non-perturbative stuff in there, since collider energies are typically well in the perturbative regime.

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  • Mano Philips

    On the origin of mass; the hype seems to be that the Higgs field imbues all elementary particles with mass. Frank Wilczek, in his many writings, and Tom Kibble (
    tell a different story.

    Kibble – “It is sometimes said that the Higgs field gives masses to all other particles, but that is not strictly correct. It is important to note that most of the mass of the nucleon in particular does not arise in this way. Only the masses of the quarks come from the Englert-Brout-Higgs-Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble mechanism. The larger part of the nucleon mass comes from a mechanism along the lines sketched out earlier by Nambu (see Englert-Brout-Higgs-Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble mechanism (history)).”

    Can someone explain.

  • Michael

    @Entropy and backAlleySUSY: Thanks! I’m looking into both of your suggestions. backAlleySUSY, are Barger and Phillips the authors you’re thinking about?

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    It is a long time a particle with mass nearly 123Gev is predicted in the site on an unitary theory , and we have also in this site a field nearly the Higgs field which explains the mass of the particles.

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Cosmic Variance

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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