Science Questions

How much progress will we make if we discover the Higgs boson?

Sun, 20th Mar 2011

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Question

Ryan Chown, via Facebook asked:

How much progress will be made in science if we find out that the Higgs boson really exists?

Answer

We posed this question to Professor Chris Leicester from the University of Cambridge...

Chris -    Well, if we do confirm that it exists, it would be an outstanding international achievement from the point of view of people across the world having had to get together and work for more than 40 years on trying to actually track down this one particle.  But in one sense, if that real number is found, and we learn that the particle is there after all - and many people think that it is - that that would in some sense be perhaps less stunning than looking throughout the lifetime of the Large Hadron Collider, checking all the bases, and then finding out that the Higgs boson didn’t exist, which would really put a cat among the pigeons.  So, in a way, there are some people, mischievous people perhaps, who would most prefer that we didn’t find Higgs bosons, so long as the machine carries on working and it’s a definitive not having found it.

Ben -   You said ‘put the cat amongst the pigeons.’  Are there good alternative hypotheses that would step in to fill the gap or does it really send our current understanding totally into the bin?

Chris -   There are competing theories that would trying to step into that void.  But the problem perhaps is that none of these have really got a strong following.  There are many things we’ve built on top of the standard model and upon extensions of the standard model which help to explain the universe and the way it works, and there isn’t that similar edifice built on top of these other theories.  So there’d be a lot of thinking still to do to make them all work.

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