End of Higgs Search Will Confirm or Refute the Standard Model of Physics 'Within Months'

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The number one particle on physicists most-wanted list, the Higgs boson, has played a key role in our understanding of the universe. As first predicted in 1964, the Higgs is theorized to be responsible for giving all other particles mass. Only one problem: no one's ever glimpsed one in any experiment ever. And we've been looking. The reason we run high-energy particle collisions is that all kinds of exotic particles can be found in the rubble. Or, more properly, the signatures of their decay into more prosaic subatomic bits can be detected.

Scientists at Fermilab's Tevatron particle collider have been looking for a long, long time -- and they've made significant strides in recent years in constraining the possible attributes of the elusive particle. But the Tevatron doesn't appear to create high enough energy collisions to find the Higgs.

Now, though, CERN's new atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, has provided what a physicist called a "tantalizing" hint of precisely where the Higgs may be. In fact, "within months" we should have enough data to know for sure where the Higgs is... if it actually exists.

And that's really the most fascinating possibility. If scientists can't find the Higgs even at LHC energies, then the entire model of standard physics will have to be rethought. And there's nothing better in physics than experimental data ruining the theory.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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