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Michael Tuts

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Are You Crazy?

Posted: 07/03/2012 8:36 pm

In the wee hours of July 4, at 3 a.m. New York time, the world will be able to hear two presentations from CERN about the status of the search for the so far elusive Higgs boson. That probably needs some explanation, so let me step back a couple of years which is when four experiments at the LHC, or Large Hadron Collider, started taking data, and the most recent race to find the Higgs was started. So in the early hours of July 4, we will be able to hear what two of those experiments, called CMS and ATLAS, have found to date. The results have not yet been publically released, and the two back-to-back seminars given by the experiment spokespersons will be the first time that the world gets to learn about those results. Particle physicists have been searching for the Higgs boson for over 40 years, and by the end of this year we will have a definitive answer about its existence. The Higgs boson is the consequence of a theory that postulates that all of space is filled with something called a Higgs field, and it is the interaction of elementary particles with this field that imbues these elementary particles with their mass. Since we can measure the masses of the elementary particles, which range from zero to over 170 times heavier than a proton, we know there must be something that gives rise to their mass, and that without something like this mechanism universe would be a much different place -- without us.

Crazy hour or not I was going to get up at 3 a.m. to listen to the presentations being presented live -- as probably are most high energy physicists. But then I thought maybe others might be interested in making a party of it and listening together. I didn't quite know what to expect, so I tried out the idea on a few people first, and as expected a few responded with "Are you totally crazy? 3 a.m. on the 4th of July!", but fortunately a few responded with "Awesome, I'll be there". So with the help of Columbia, we started planning an event for the Columbia science community, and much to my amazement the latest count has a large crowd of people that have signed up to come listen to the live broadcast which will be followed by a Q&A session.

I am delighted at the turnout -- probably over 60 people (faculty, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates, high school students, family members) coming out at 3 a.m. on the 4th of July? Amazing. Either there are a lot of crazy people around here, or in fact the search for the Higgs has captured the imagination of a broad spectrum of people from young to old. What a refreshing change from just a few years ago when I would sit on the plane, tell people I was a high energy physicist and all conversation ceased! Besides the deep and fundamental questions we will answer by conducting experiments at the world's highest energy particle accelerator, I am now confident that we will also be inspiring the next generation of people to pursue careers in science, engineering and technology. I truly believe that the fundamental research of today is the technology of tomorrow.

So if you can't join us, turn on your alarm clock, drag yourself out of bed at 3 a.m., fire up the PC and listen to the latest chapter in the Higgs saga coming from CERN early tomorrow morning at http://webcast.web.cern.ch.

 
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