Higgs-like particle: Texas's missed opportunity

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Yesterday, researchers at the European Center for Nuclear Research announced the discovery of a new subatomic particle using a particle accelerator specifically built for this task.

The particle in question, known as the Higgs boson, is fundamental piece of the Standard Model of particle physics, which is like the periodic table of elements for subatomic particles.

In the 1960’s, Scottish physicist Peter Higgs theorized the existence of a particle responsible for producing the field that gives mass to other particles.

Using the Large Hadron Collider on the border of France and Switzerland, CERN scientists collided proton beams at extreme energies to observe the fraction of a second traces of the elusive particle.

Scientists said they can’t be 100 percent sure that the new particle is exactly what was predicted by Higgs, but their results show that the new particle is consistent with the theoretical Higgs Boson with 99.99 percent certainty. More experiments are necessary to determine if the new particle is truly a Higgs boson, and if so, what kind of Higgs boson it is.

Discovering the Higgs boson required a particle accelerator capable of producing sufficient energy levels. The LHC is 17 miles in circumference and runs its particle beams at a combined 8 teraelectronvolts. The LHC is scheduled for upgrades later this year that will bump the energy level to 14 TeV.

The LHC made this discovery in 2012, but scientists could have potentially found the Higgs boson in Texas in the 1990’s.

The Superconducting Super Collider was on schedule for construction south of Dallas around the town of Waxahachie, but in 1993 Congress cancelled the project due to rising budget costs and a lack of political support.

Two billion out of the 12 total had been spent on the project before it was cancelled. The SSC would have been 54 miles in circumference and able to reach energies of 20 TeV, dwarfing the LHC’s starting output of 7 TeV.

Steven Weinberg, UT physics professor and Nobel laureate, has written about this missed opportunity and the “crisis of big science” that is increasingly becoming a problem as federal funds for big-ticket research projects dry up and face competition with other government programs.

Weinberg has been critical of the SSC cancellation and has mixed feelings about the Higgs boson announcement.

“This is a discovery that could have been and should have been made in America,” Weinberg said. “We are regretful that the United States Congress decided in this instance to turn its back on pushing forward the frontier of fundamental knowledge.”