June 14, 2024
An atmosphere akin to that of a once-in-a-lifetime rock concert. The announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson in CERN, 2012

My life as a Higgs boson

Following the death of Peter Higgs, after whom the famous particle is named, physicist Eilam Gross from the Weizmann Institute of Science, who took part in the particle’s discovery, discusses the origin of the famous prediction and the individual behind it

Twelve years ago, on July 4th, 2012, masses stormed the entrance of the lecture hall at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. The excitement was comparable to that felt before a once-in-a-lifetime rock concert, by the Rolling Stones at the very least.

This time, however, it was an announcement by CERN laboratories, that their two biggest experiments, the ATLAS and CMS detectors, had found evidence of the Higgs boson’s existence, also called “the God particle,” after years of searching for it by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

As the head of the research group working on ATLAS, I quickly passed through security and entered the hall. We had no idea whether CERN’s Director-General, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, would announce the discovery of the Higgs boson or just report on strong evidence of its existence, as he had done six months prior when we started noticing the signs.

While awaiting the event’s start, we saw the experiment heads who discovered the particle, referred to at CERN as “spokespersons,” enter the hall. Joe Incandela, spokesperson for CMS, was followed by Fabiola Gianotti, ATLAS spokesperson and current Director-General of CERN. Suddenly, we saw Peter Higgs and François Englert enter the hall. They approached each other and shook hands.

It was their first meeting, and they had no idea that about one year later, they would meet again in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for the theoretical prediction of the mechanism that grants mass to particles through the Higgs field.

Our excitement as Higgs hunters reached an all-time high, as the invitation of Englert and Higgs to the event had one clear meaning: CERN was about to announce the discovery of the Higgs boson. Not just evidence of its existence, but a discovery. And indeed, Heuer concluded his words with, “As a layman I would say: ‘I think we have it’. We have a discovery. We have found a new particle, consistent with the predictions of the Higgs boson”.

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