Happy Higgs Day!

Today is the Higgs boson’s second birthday! It was on this day, the fourth of July, in 2012 that the Higgs was unveiled to the world with the now immortal words of CERN Director General, Rolf Heuer, “I think we have it”.

Before the announcement was made, the atmosphere at CERN was like a rock concert. I, along with many PhD and summer students, spent the previous night waiting outside the auditorium where the talks from two of the LHC experiments, CMS and ATLAS, were to take place. This was to guarantee ourselves a seat to watch history being made.

Waiting in the queue for a seat in the CERN auditorium where the discovery of a Higgs-like boson was about to be announced.
Waiting in the queue for a seat in the CERN auditorium where the discovery of a Higgs-like boson was about to be announced.

It’s a shame that the room wasn’t larger as I know that many people were disappointed not to get a seat, especially if they had worked on the result, but I also think it’s fantastic that so many young people were able to be a part of it, as they will be the ones making the discoveries of the future. It was simultaneously streamed to other auditoriums in CERN, the ICHEP conference in Australia and online for the public to watch.

Joe Incandela from the CMS experiment went first to explain their results. He was followed by ATLAS spokesperson, Fabiola Gianotti. Despite the importance of the results, many people on the internet didn’t like Fabiola’s choice of colours or font for her presentation and “comic sans” even started trending on twitter! It has now become a running joke at CERN, and there was even a video this April that CERN would be switching to the font.

The presentations concluded with a a standing ovation!

Standing ovation for the announcement of a boson consistent with the Higgs! July 2012.
Standing ovation for the announcement by both CMS and ATLAS of a boson consistent with the Higgs! CERN, July 2012.

After the announcement, the audience poured out to join the crowds of people outside. My group headed the short distance to R1, CERN’s premiere restaurant. We sat outside and toasted the discovery with champagne and Pimms provided by Steve Bieniek from Heathrow airport. After a while excitement turned to exhaustion and I lay my head on my arms to nap.  I woke when a reporter from the Times came over: “I could tell you were British” he told us, “as I could see the bottle of Pimms from the other side of the courtyard”. He asked us questions about the announcement and what we thought it meant. It seemed that I was coherent enough, even though I had just woken up, to make it into the article! Although, unfortunately the article is behind a paywall.

The next day the Higgs result was everywhere. It even made it onto the front page of the New York Times! The photograph included about four pixels of my head and I asked my American friends if someone could get a copy for me. It was brilliant how excited the world was about our discovery!

On the day, I had seen Professor Higgs, along with the other major theorists, from a distance. A little over a year later I was able to meet him in person. In 2013, Prof. Higgs was given an honorary degree at the University of Manchester only days after the Nobel prize for physics had been announced. I had just submitted my thesis and so was more than happy to spend the day preparing for his arrival by building a LEGO version of the ATLAS detector.

The team who rebuilt the ATLAS LEGO model at the University of Manchester.
The team who rebuilt the ATLAS LEGO model at the University of Manchester.

Prof. Higgs was modest and fascinating to listen to as he told us the history of the theory. I was very fortunate to be able to get my copy of the New York Times front page article of the boson discovery signed by him!

Professor Higgs just after he had signed my NYT newspaper of the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN. Photo credit: S.Marsden. (Also, note I'm not a giant, just  on the stairs)
Professor Higgs just after he had signed my NYT newspaper of the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN. Photo credit: S. Marsden. (Also, note I’m not a giant, just on the stairs)
Signed copy of the front page of the New York Times from the day after the Higgs boson announcement, July 2012.
Signed copy of the front page of the New York Times from the day after the Higgs boson announcement, July 2012. If you look closely (and know where I was sitting) I can just be seen in the back of the auditorium!

 

If you’re celebrating Higgs-dependance day (as it was dubbed two years ago), you can re-live the excitement of the announcement by watching the recording on the CERN Document Server (CDS): http://cds.cern.ch/record/1459565

If you want to hear more about the Higgs boson (& beyond!), and are near London this week, the Royal Society has a Summer Science Exhibition including a Higgs boson stall. Since Tuesday, scientists from universities all over the UK have been talking to the public about the Higgs boson, it’s discovery two years ago and what we still want to learn. You can follow the Twitter account for the exhibit @HiggsBosonRS14 to see photos and find out more information. If you visit on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I’ll be on the stall, so please come over and say hello!

Where were you when the Higgs boson discovery was announced? Did you watch online? Let me know in the comments below.

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3 thoughts on “Happy Higgs Day!”

  1. Every day since the Higgs was found about 24,000 people have died of starvation. Here we are probing the depths of reality and spending billions to do it while our house is in total disarray. In a few decades we may well land on Mars at enormous cost assuming catastrophe has not broken our infrastructure. Let us apply technology and science to real problems.

    1. Hi Magnocrat. Thank you for your comment.

      I want to first say that it’s completely awful that even a single person dies of starvation. We have the resources on our planet for everyone to have enough to eat (for now at least).

      I have to disagree though that the way to solve this would be by stopping fundamental research. There are benefits that come from this research that we just can’t predict right now, but could be very useful in the future. An example from history is the WWW. This was invented at CERN to help scientists share results. Now it is allowing people in developing counties to access information that they never would have been able to before.

  2. Thanks for your reply. It always the cry of the scientist that benefits will come, some will be unpredictable.
    This answer of course allows anything to proceed whatever the cost or the consequences. There is always a double edged sword with advance just look at the weaponry now available. Think of the massive contamination caused by the internal combustion engine.
    Science largely benefits the rich and is paid for by the rich. Politicians of course have a share in the blame but they are largely rich themselves.
    Not all scientists view the future as filled with sweetness and light. The well known astronomer Martin Rees believes this to be our last century. I hope he is wrong but things don’t look good.

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