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TOPIC: Is Higgs Competition Healthy? [refresh]
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Blogger Grace Stemp-Morlock wrote on Feb. 19, 2009 @ 19:00 GMT
I’m now back home having spent the last week in Chicago at the AAAS meeting, and I’ve had a chance to catch up on the news reports that came out the meeting. One of the biggest news stories was the race between Fermilab and CERN to find the Higgs. But I can’t help wondering how healthy it is to keep pushing the idea of a race between the two labs?

In September 2008, the whole world watched as the Large Hadron Collider was switched on. None more closely watched than the scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Tevatron synchrotron in Batavia, Il. (Well, except maybe the guys who predicted that the LHC would be shut down by ripples from the future.)

I attended the AAAS news briefing where this “race” between the two accelerators was discussed. Lyn Evans, project manager for CERN and the LHC, compared the electrical fault to the original growing pains that the Hubble Space Telescope had. And, unfortunately, just like with Hubble it will take a significant amount of time to fix the problem, and CERN doesn’t expect to begin normal operations again until mid-September 2009.

To make up for the lost time, the plan is also to operate the LHC all winter long for a complete year–leading some to question the extra $10 million costs involved in running through the colder months. Normally CERN shuts down in the winter.

The LHC’s problems have, of course, bought the world’s second most powerful particle accelerator, Fermilab’s Tevatron, some extra time to hunt for the Higgs. And the Tevatron is going full steam ahead on the hunt.

Dmitri Denisov, a particle physicist at Fermilab, confirmed that they were aggressively hunting for the Higgs particle. In fact, they have already excluded 170GeV as a possible mass range for the Higgs particle. This is the region the Tevatron would be most sensitive to seeing the Higgs particle, but they are going to continue searching that range going up and down in 5 GeV increments.

The challenge with isolating an incident indicative of the Higgs particle is that the Tevatron could only see a handful of events for every collision, and the scientists are having a tough time isolating real events from the background noise. Nonetheless Pier Oddone, at Fermilab, believes that if the Higgs particle is nearby 170 GeV they will have a 90% chance of finding it. (US/LHC blogs and Cosmic Variance have been discussing this too.)

Unfortunately, if the Higgs particle is not in this range, then in a couple years the number of channels added will add so much noise that it will be very tough to find it at all.

I agree that focusing on this race between the labs adds excitement to the hunt for the Higgs. But I worry that it gives people the wrong impression that the Higgs is the only things that matters in particle physics and to the LHC. If the Tevatron doesn’t find the Higgs in the next two years, their chance at the history books will be all used up. And if they do find it, what then for the LHC? Although it’s meant to hunt for evidence of many other things (dark matter, supersymmetry, extra dimensions anyone?), if the LHC is scooped by Fermilab with the Higgs discovery, how big will the backlash from the public be against a hugely expensive particle accelerator, especially in this time of global financial crisis?

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Feb. 19, 2009 @ 23:22 GMT
If the tevatron finds the Higgs it might steal some of the initial thunder of the LHC. However, experiments on the Higgs field at much higher LHC energy should determine whether this is a condensate of top/antitop quarks or whether there is technicolor physics. Interestingly this would put the mass at 173GeV/c^2. Of course the search for supersymmetry (twisted or broken SUSY), neutralinos as dark matter and a chance at so called soft black holes in large extra dimensions. The RHIC has data suggestive of this already. So there will be plenty of of physics for the LHC to do.

So before the tevatron become a museum piece or sold for scrap it would be fun if it gave us one last hurrah.

Lawrence B. Crowell

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