Ten years of the Higgs boson. What next? | Science | In-depth science and technology reporting | DW

One of the greatest scientific discoveries of our time was announced a decade ago when particle physicists discovered the Higgs boson, a fleeting, elusive subatomic particle that helped explain many fundamental questions in science, including how fundamental particles get their mass.

The Higgs boson was discovered by researchers working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics. The LHC is one of the largest and most expensive scientific facilities in the world and will restart on July 5 after three years of maintenance. It will work around the clock for almost four years.

This time, the collider will use an unprecedented energy of 13.6 teraelectronvolts (TeV) to accelerate and collide beams of protons for experiments. This will be the third of five data probes facilitated by the collider. The first two series used energies of 6.5 and 13 TeV, respectively, to make collisions.

About 3,000 scientific papers were published using the data obtained during the first two cycles of the experiment. Scientists expect similar results from this run.

But first: what is the Higgs boson?

The recognition of the Higgs boson — discovered in 2012, nearly five decades after it was first predicted — led to a number of scientific discoveries, including the completed Standard Model of particle physics. This is the most detailed description we have of what comprises the subatomic world, which includes electrons, protons, bosons, and quarks.

“The Higgs boson is a very good microscope for understanding not only nature, but also how high-energy physics works,” said Fabiola Gianotti, director general of CERN.

The Higgs boson was so difficult to find that it was originally dubbed the “Cursed Particle” by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman, who published a popular book on the Higgs boson in 1993. The nickname was later changed to the “God Particle,” after such as negative feedback from religious institutions.

Will we discover new subatomic particles?

When this question was put to CERN scientists at a recent press conference, Gian Giddis, head of CERN’s Theoretical Physics Department, responded with his own: “If you saw Charles Darwin coming back from his trip to the Galapagos, would you ask him how much new birds did you see? Or you will ask: What do you understand better than the logic of evolution? I would say the second question is more interesting,” he said.

Guidice said the LHC should be seen as a tool that can be used to better understand the evolution of the universe, not as a machine that simply generates new particles.

He said CERN is more interested in discovering new scientific principles than “blindly running behind the discovery of a phenomenon”.

Adding accuracy to our knowledge

The third cycle of the LHC aims to improve our knowledge of fundamental scientific principles. Particle physics has changed more in the past ten years since the discovery of the Higgs boson than in the 30 years before it, Guidice said.

“Discovering a new particle is important, but it is part of the gradual process of acquiring knowledge. Understanding why the Higgs boson behaves the way it does is the more important part of the process,” he said, adding that the upcoming study could help do just that.

A better understanding of the Higgs boson may even help shed light on how our universe came to be. The expedition will enable an unprecedentedly precise study of quark-gluon plasma (QGP), a state of matter that existed in the first 10 microseconds after the Big Bang.

The Higgs boson helps explain the Standard Model of physics.

“Ignored” data

Luca Malgheri, a spokesman for the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, said the upcoming study will allow researchers to “double” their statistics for the Higgs and other related projects. Scientists will be able to focus on data “ignored” in previous orbits because it was too small to detect or measure precisely, he said.

For example, “muons” – elementary particles similar to the electron but with much greater mass – will be studied in the third cycle.

CERN theorist Michelangelo Mangano said scientists may be able to use this data to “confirm for the first time” that muons also gain mass through the Higgs mechanism.

Malgheri said he believes that during the third cycle, the researchers may have reached a threshold for how accurate the data can be.

“Here we expect to see inconsistencies in our existing understanding of our theories surrounding the behavior of the Higgs boson,” he said.

Other possible findings

Researchers’ knowledge of dark matter is also likely to improve with the third cycle. Although there are mixed opinions about the collider’s ability to detect dark matter, some scientists believe that studying the decay of the Higgs boson could lead them to it.

The launch of LHC Run 3 will be broadcast live on CERN’s social media channels and Eurovision’s high-quality satellite link from 16:00 (CEST) on 5 July.

Edited by: Claire Roth

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