A View from the Shadows: The Truth and Beauty of the Higgs Boson

A visualization of what we knew well-enough about the Higgs (solid black lines), and not at all (dashed lines), circa June 2017. Understanding the Higgs will, in part, come from understanding how it interacts with the other known building blocks of reality.

In our book, “Reality in the Shadows,” Jim Gates, Frank Blitzer, and I take a look at the history of the Higgs particle, see the day the discovery was announced through the eyes of one of the co-authors (me), and explore what the Higgs might be besides being just another important subatomic particle.

In some future edition of the book, we can perhaps speak more definitively about the Higgs boson and the ultimate place it will take in the pantheon of human knowledge. For now, a 20-year (or longer) program of study is underway, initiated in 2012 and 2013, to map out all the properties of this fascinating particle. Discovering something is the first step. Now we must explore what we have found.

The Higgs is still veiled in shadow. We don’t know all its properties as precisely as we would like, and many we do not know at all. Could something new lurk in those unexplored crevasses of its nature? In this post, I’ll take you inside one of the shadows where light is beginning to shine, and we’ll see something of the truth and beauty of the Higgs boson.

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A View from the Shadows: Reading List

“Reality in the Shadows (or) What the Heck’s the Higgs” is meant to help a new audience come to discover a love of science and especially physics, or to welcome to the frontier those who already discovered that love a long time ago.

Reality in the Shadows” is a book that required years to write. I was the latest addition to the creative team, but it is very much a shared vision between three co-authors each with different perspectives on the subject matter. Jim Gates has a keen mathematical mind and delights in showing an audience that math is not as scary as they have been led to believe (or have wrongly convinced themselves). He sees the deeper connection between mathematics and reality. Frank Blitzer has a deep love of physics as a branch of science that seeks some of the deepest truths about the universe, and brings to bear on this a wealth of experience in computation, engineering, and modeling processes. I’m the experimental physicist and Higgs hunter, who believes that reliably gathered independent lines of evidence are the best way to support, or refute, an idea.

Despite our existing expertise, this book didn’t spring fully formed from the minds of the authors. It was a labor, and that labor benefited from learning. We, too, depended on those who had written things down before us. We drew from many sources to tell the story of the past, present, and possible futures of physics.

Below, find a reading list of material I used to support my writing contributions to the book. I hope some of these will allow you a much deeper and more technical exploration of some subjects in the book. Many are highly technical, but they provided the raw scientific material that I tried to communicate to a general audience.

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The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics

ligoThe Nobel Prize committee planned the announcement of the 2017 prize in Physics for Tuesday, October 3, at 11:45am CET (4:45am US Central time). I got up early this morning to connect to the live stream and listen to the announcement. The Nobel Committee announced that this year’s prize goes to Rainer Weiss (one half), Barry Barish and Kip Thorne (splitting the other half) for decisive contributions to the LIGO Detector and the observation of gravitational waves [1].

In this short post, I reflect on the discovery of gravitational waves by direct observation, a measurement over a century in the making.

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A view of Orion

Venus rises over the mountains east of the SMU campus in Taos, NM. It is nearly sunrise.

This weekend is drawing to a close. I write this not from Dallas, where Jodi and I finally returned home 2 weeks ago after a brief (and originally unplanned) vacation in Wisconsin, but from the SMU campus in Taos, NM. It is Sunday morning. The past week – the first week of classes for this fall term – was long and painful, brightened by the students I get to work with this fall in class and on research and dimmed by the usual complexities of life in an academic department. I won’t get into the dimming. I’ll focus on the bright spots of the week.

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