The time’s come for me to return home to the United States. It is almost impossible to convey the intensity of the last few weeks. I’m excited, exhilarated and exhausted.
Even in more normal times, a visit to the CERN laboratory that built and operates the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] always wipes me out. When I’m there, several times a day I run into physicists I know who work on the LHC experiments, and so I’m constantly getting into impromptu conversations, both about the most recent scientific results and about planning how to investigate the data in future. And then there are lots of theoretical physicists of all stripes to talk to and learn from, including not only CERN faculty but also many, many visitors from all around the world.
This visit, of course, was unique. Not only did was there the historic presentation July 4th that convinced the particle physics community that a new particle, most likely a type of Higgs particle, has been found, it was followed (as was anticipated) by days and days of incessant discussions about interpreting the data that demonstrated the particle’s presence, and about future strategies to learn more about it. Then there was a five-day workshop at CERN (over a weekend!) concerning not only the Higgs search but also all of the other new results (of which there are many, though not as newsworthy) that the LHC experiments have produced. [For that workshop, I was asked to put together a presentation on a subject on which I don’t feel entirely an expert, which was an interesting but rather stressful experience.] And finally there was a three-day Higgs Hunting Workshop on the outskirts of Paris, entirely focused on the Higgs, where we saw some new Higgs data presented by the ATLAS experiment, a full review of all the previously presented Higgs data from all the relevant experiments, lots of theoretical talks about how to calculate the properties of the simplest type of Higgs particle with very high precision, discussions of the implications of the current data for whether the new particle might be a Higgs of a more complicated type, and also presentations reviewing the history of the Higgs search and looking forward into the near-term and long-term future. All Higgs All The Time! [Yet again, I had to prepare a presentation that I found very stressful, and struggled with until almost the last moment. Between my departure from Geneva Tuesday afternoon until the Higgs Hunting Workshop ended late Friday afternoon, I don’t think I took a break except for meals.]
So I think you can understand why I’ve been a little slow to post and why I’m a little slow to answer your questions and comments just now. I expect to be ready to start answering questions and putting more pedagogical stuff up on the site over the coming week. In fact, for those of you who’ve had a bit of a freshman physics course, I’ve figured out how to explain how the Higgs field does its thing, namely, how it gives mass to other particles. Maybe as I put that explanation together I’ll figure out how to explain it even for those of you who haven’t had freshman physics, though that will be a lot trickier.
But right now I’m still winding down, and trying to clear my brain. Much work lies ahead of us in particle physics — for the LHC is still in its early stages, and we need many years of study of the new particle before it will teach us what we need to know about the Higgs field(s).