…for a little particle has culminated with its discovery.
Signaling a likely end to one of the longest, most expensive searches in the history of science, physicists said Wednesday that they had discovered a new subatomic particle that looks for all the world like the Higgs boson, a key to understanding why there is diversity and life in the universe…
“I think we have it,” said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director general of CERN, the multinational research center headquartered in Geneva…He and others said that it was too soon to know for sure, however, whether the new particle is the one predicted by the Standard Model, the theory that has ruled physics for the last half-century. The particle is predicted to imbue elementary particles with mass. It may be an impostor as yet unknown to physics, perhaps the first of many particles yet to be discovered.
According to the Standard Model, the Higgs boson is the only manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles with mass…Without the Higgs field, as it is known, or something like it, all elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight.
Well, it wouldn’t flow through our hands, exactly, because we wouldn’t exist. But still, I appreciate the NY Times waxing so poetic.
[NOTE: Another Times article on the search manages to inject some politics into the discussion, natch, reminding readers that in 1993 the US canceled the construction of the "superconducting super collider," which might have found the Higgs boson instead of ceding the glory to CERN. A few people in the comments section of that article waste no time trashing the stupid Republicans of the religious right, as well as Reagan.
Only thing is, who controlled the presidency and Congress in 1993? Why, it was the Democrats (House 258 to 176; Senate 57 to 43). I confess that I paid absolutely no attention to the superconducting super collider's sad fate at the time, but I'm capable of looking it up, and when I did I found that the project was begun under Reagan and Bush I, and killed under Clinton and the Democratic Congress because of gargantual cost overruns.
Leaving aside the question of whether canceling the collider seemed like a good decision at the time (although it may indeed have), the project died through lack of Democratic support. Clinton had initially been against continuing it, although he'd changed his mind by the time of the Congressional vote. Democratic Texas Governor Ann Richards was against it, and that mattered because it was being built in her state. The drive to kill it in the House was spearheaded by Democratic Kansas Congressman Jim Slattery.
Here's the story of Reagan's participation:
On January 29, 1987, at the beginning of the semi-final year of the Reagan Administration, the DOE presented its plan for the new SSC project to the President and his cabinet. The price tag was $4.4 billion, quoted in 1988 dollars omitting inflation and the cost of detectors that the new accelerator would need. After the DOE experts had made their pitch, Reagan recalled his days as a sports reporter interviewing a star quarterback whose watchword had been "Throw deep!" This was the advice he gave the DOE regarding the SSC project.
"Mr. President," remarked OMB Director William Miller, "you're going to make a lot of physicists ecstatic."
"That's probably fair," Reagan replied, "because I made two physics teachers in high school very miserable." With that the SSC received its start.]