Happy July 4th: or as I Remember It, Higgs Boson Discovery Day

The story of discovery from the perspective of a physicist in training.

During the presentation of the discovery of a “Higgs-like boson” (Credit: CERN Photo, Maximilien Brice, Laurent Egli)

The Birth of a New Particle

Slide-by-slide, the leaders from each of the experiments (ATLAS and CMS) went through the technical details of the analyses. They presented their findings with great technical care and caveats. For example, they refrained from saying “The Higgs Boson,” and instead used the phrase “a Higgs-like Boson.” Any occasional slip-ups seemed to evoke a chuckle from the audience. It almost felt like a typical physics seminar, without much fanfare involved. But then the summary figures emerged:

The summary plot for the discovery of a “Higgs-like Boson” at the ATLAS Experiment published in 2012 (Credit: ATLAS Collaboration, link)
The summary plot for the discovery of a “Higgs-like Boson” at the CMS Experiment published in 2012 (Credit: CMS Collaboration, link)

The Significance of the Significance

For many, the discovery might not have meant much. However, for the young scientist in training that I was, it was an affirmation of my commitment to particle physics. This was science in the making, and many had waited decades to see it come to fruition. I was lucky enough to be amongst colleagues who actively participated in the search. I thought to myself, “what better time to be a researcher in particle physics?!”

CERN is one of the largest international scientific collaborations in the world. Here’s a picture of the member states’ flags near one of the entrances (Credit: CERN Photo, Maximilien Brice)

From Discovery to Humility

As time passed, the hope of discovering something new diminished (though there were plenty of anomalies here and there). Slowly but surely, more and more data confirmed how the newly discovered boson behaves exactly as predicted by our beloved Standard Model. It became a new entry to the Particle Data Group’s handbook, cementing its status amongst other previously discovered particles such as the W/Z bosons and the Top quark.

A Retrospective…

I look back on my academic career in physics with fondness. There was excitement—from the discovery of the Higgs Boson to the first detection of gravitational waves. There was banality and frustration—from the daily grind of running simulations and calculations to the tedious back-and-forth with scientific publishers. Through it all, I was extremely fortunate to have been part of this scientific endeavor. Even though I ended up in industry, I would not hesitate to follow the same path again if given the opportunity.

Data Scientist @ LiveRamp | ex Particle Physics Postdoc @ Berkeley | Podcast host @ quirkcast.org

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