Did scientists at CERN truly discover the Higgs boson, or was it an impostor?
That is the question raised in a newly published paper by Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, which says newly analyzed data may point to an impostor particle.
“Their conclusion is that the data is consistent with at least two other particles that are not the standard Higgs boson,” noted an article published Monday by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
While CERN scientists were not willing to confirm the existence of the particle during their Wednesday announcement, the team did suggest that data collected earlier this year fits well with predictions. Speaking earlier this month, scientists working on the project said that years worth of research seems to indicate that scientists are on the verge of verifying the existence of the Higgs boson, a landmark achievement.
“I think we have it,” said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director general of CERN, the multinational research center headquartered in Geneva.
The elusive “God particle” has become the most sought-after particle in modern science. Its discovery would be proof of an invisible energy field that fills the vacuum of space. According to the Standard Model, the Higgs boson is the only manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic force field that permeates space and imbues elementary particles with mass. The Higgs was first proposed in the 1960s and is thought to be the remnant of a ubiquitous interaction common to all objects with mass.
Yet, in the newly published report, the team of scientists note that the signature provided by the Higgs boson may not matter all that much. The team notes that the signature may not serve as a valid means of confirming the existence of the elusive particle, noting the possibility of a generic Higgs doublet and a triplet imposter
“The trouble is that this signature is not unique, at least not given the amount of data that CERN has so far collected,” said the scientists. “We show that current LHC data already strongly disfavor both the dilatonic and non-dilatonic singlet imposters. On the other hand, a generic Higgs doublet and a triplet imposter give equally good fits to the measured event rates of the newly observed scalar resonance.”
The team of Illinois scientists suggest that the complexity surrounding identifying the elusive particle may eventually lead to a false positive. The team noted that the time required to observe the particle was one of contributing factors to the questions being raised.
“The reason for his controlled optimism is the elusive nature of this particles. Since we can only create them for a very limited time before they decay into other particles, it’s very difficult to trace their signature. It’s even more difficult when, looking at the the data so far collected by CERN, the signature can be attributed to other particles,” said scientists.
While the newly published report notes that the observed signature pattern fits better with the Standard Model, the team said the findings should raise questions within the scientific community. The team of scientists also noted that recent findings are likely just the beginning of the scientific debate concerning the Higgs boson.
“This is only the beginning of a challenging program of Higgs Identiﬁcation,” said Low.
The research results could present scientists with various problems related to the Standard Model if the Higgs boson is not, in fact, found to exist. The Higgs has long been considered one of the most important findings for physicists, who say data aligning with the particle’s nonexistence would leave the scientific community scratching their heads.
“This is one of the cornerstones of how we understand the universe,” said Rob Roser, a Fermilab physicist, “and if it’s not there, we have to go back and check our assumptions about how the universe exists.”
Mr. Roser said further data regarding the particle is expected in the coming months. Additional tests from CERN scientists may offer more evidence of the Higgs particle, though they will also be cautious. “The Higgs particle, if it’s real, will show itself in different ways. We need for all of them to be consistent before we can say for sure we’ve seen it.”
That said, Wednesday’s announcement remains a key event in the history of physics. Asked on comment on the discovery, Peter Higgs, for whom the Higgs boson is named after, said the announcement was overwhelming.
“I was asked by a journalist at the seminar why I burst into tears after the presentation. During the talks I was still distancing myself from it all, but when the seminar ended, it was like being at a football match when the home team had won. There was a standing ovation for the people who gave the presentation, cheers and stamping. It was like being knocked over by a wave,” said Mr. Higgs.