“Maybe Picasso did not paint any pictures at all, at least not the Mona Lisa.”

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As the Guardian’s Ian Sample notes from the science desk

The runup to Christmas looks exciting for the Large Hadron Collider at Cern near Geneva. Staff at the laboratory have arranged a special seminar on Tuesday 13 December at which the latest results in the search for the Higgs boson will be made public. The presentation is due to happen directly after the lab’s scientific policy committee has convened one of its regular meetings behind closed doors.

So what can we expect to hear? The two main groups that hunt the Higgs boson, the Atlas and CMS detector collaborations, will describe their results separately, unlike the recent combined figures put out this month in Paris. There has been too little time to merge the most up-to-date results from both experiments.

If both teams have analysed all their data, up to the last proton-proton collision recorded in October this year, we are into interesting territory. John Ellis, a theoretical physicist at King’s College London, who in 1976 wrote the first paper on how to find the Higgs boson, says that if the particle exists in the simple form invoked by the Standard Model (the set of equations that describe how known particles interact) it should start to show up in their data, but probably not strongly enough for them to claim a discovery. If the elusive boson is a mirage, the scientists should be able to rule it out completely. All of this is contingent on their having analysed every last bit of their data, though, and that is unlikely.

And with “somewhat excited” reporters still around, theoretical physicist Matt Strassler marvels in some “wonderfully misleading” reports.

I love this quote from the BBC: “But there is an even more intriguing possibility: that [the Higgs particle] may not exist at all, at least in its simplest form.”

This is a lot like saying: “Maybe the earth has no trees at all, at least not maple trees.”  Or “Maybe children on earth do not play games at all, at least not football.”  Or “Maybe Picasso did not paint any pictures at all, at least not the Mona Lisa.”

If the simplest form of the Higgs particle does not exist in nature, that will surprise no one in the field.  There are hundreds of serious scientific papers, written by experts over the past 40 years, suggesting other forms of the Higgs particle (or particles).  Every novel idea (supersymmetry, extra dimensions, little Higgs, etc.) has a more complicated story than the Standard Model Higgs particle.  Most particle physicists are hoping for precisely this situation.  Exotic Higgs particles generally would take a little longer to find than the Standard Model version of the Higgs — but they’re still Higgs particles, just as oak trees are trees and basketball is a game.

Indeed.  And Matt Strassler’s predicting that “We will not know if the Higgs particle does “not exist at all” for ten years.

So let’s wait for the 13 December data, eh?  In the meantime, here’s a good introduction to the Standard Model of Particle Physics from Cern News – it’s the first in a series of videos.

Of course, there may be further wrinkles ahead…

And Matt Strassler’s been thinking about some possible wrinkles.

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  • ben_w

    I’m reasonably certain that Picasso didn’t paint the Mona Lisa.

  • Pete Baker

    ben_w

    That would be the point…