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If there’s no Higgs boson…well, what next?

August 23, 2011

Yesterday at the annual Lepton-Photon Conference in Mumbai (don’t you wish you were there) it was announced by the folks running the Large Hadron Collider that they’ve tried most of the easy locations where the Higgs boson might be hiding. I’m not going to make your head explode talking about gigaelectronvolt ranges and such, but it looks like they will be collecting data for at least another year before they can begin scratching their heads in earnest and saying, “Where is this thing?”

More information on what the Higgs field and Higgs boson are about, and why they are important to our understanding of the universe.

Not every physicist is even buying into the Standard Model of particle physics and believes you need a Higgs boson at all. Here’s one site that attempts to explain how the universe works without using the Standard Model.

One of the problems with the Standard Model is that it really doesn’t do well in taking gravitation into account. To do that we have to invent a “graviton,” which has not been detected, seen or measured separately. Gravitons are useful little animals but very elusive. They are apparently implied more within string theory. String theory, or superstring theory, and brane (short for membrane) theory kind of tied up together. This gets deep fast, especially for a lowly retired high school music teacher. In general, the brane/string theory folks are not the particle theory folks, if I understand it correctly.

A good basic primer on all this stuff can be found in The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is The Universe Just Right For Life by Paul Davies. (It was issued earlier under the title Cosmic Jackpot.)

So while a lot of physicists think that the Standard Model is a good way to go, except that this Higgs thing is not showing up so easily, and gravity isn’t really explained, or whether you subscribe to one of the other theories, the one thing we do know is that the digging isn’t finished. I don’t think we have to worry about finding the Higgs and the universe ending – but it may be that the Higgs won’t be found and the universe built inside some physicists’ heads may have to be rebuilt.

We do live in interesting times!

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