Using data from experiments in gigantic particle accelerators, scientists are searching for an important component of matter, the Higgs boson. Researchers may be close to find the elusive particle.
An Interview with Prof. Joachim Mnich, particle physicist at DESY in Hamburg.
DW: Would you bet on the discovery of the Higgs - let's say this year?
Joachim Mnich: Yes, indeed, I would bet on the discovery of the Higgs, because we have first indications that there might be a Higgs - not conclusive yet. But what I'm pretty sure is that by the end of this year, we will have accumulated enough data to finally settle this question: is there a Higgs or not.
But how come you haven't found it so far? Even at CERN, at the LHC - you've been looking for quite awhile. What is so difficult?
It's a quite difficult particle - quite difficult to find. It's very elusive. You could imagine that we collide protons at the rate of 20 million times a second, and Higgs is produced - if it exists - only once a minute or so. So it's really finding the needle in the haystack, or even more difficult. So we need more data to finally have a conclusive answer to this question.
And you're quite convinced you'll actually find it. What will happen to your theories if you don't find it?
That would be interesting, but it would indeed be a problem for the theories that we have. The Higgs is playing a very crucial role in our model of the fundamental particles and their interactions, at the most fundamental level. If there is no Higgs, then we indeed need new thinking, we need new theories to explain why particles do have mass. Because the theory that we have now actually does not allow for mass. But particles do have masses, and we have to find another way, a new thinking, a new physics to explain that.
And could you imagine already new theories, new physics to explain mass, or would that kind of ruin the picture of nature we have nowadays?
There are first ideas about what could happen to make this possible - masses for particles. But in my opinion - and the opinion of many other physicists - they are a bit ugly. They would destroy a bit the beauty in the theory that we have, which is based on symmetry. I think it is a very satisfactory picture that we have of the fundamental nature of the particles... that they are based on symmetries realized in nature.
So you could kind of rescue these symmetrical principles, but still, even if you find the Higgs, you don't really have a complete, consistent picture of nature. Just think of all the riddles about dark matter. We don't know what our universe is actually made of. Or dark energy!
The discovery of the Higg's would indeed be a milestone. A very important milestone in unravelling the picture of fundamental particles, but it would not be the end of the story. The Higgs would explain to us why particles can have mass, but it will not explain their masses. Why the mass of the heaviest quark that we know is 300 times larger than that of another fundamental particle - the electron - that all of you know.
So we still have lots of parameters also in our picture of nature which are not explained. Right now I think it's 31 different parameters....
Exactly. There are theories that we are also addressing with our experiments at the LHC, which try to explain these parameters by a more fundamental model.
That would be nice to have. Thanks a lot for the talk, Professor Mnich.
(Interview: Ingolf Baur)