Today In Long Reads: Dramatizing The Hunt For The Higgs Boson

For physicists, it was "an appointment with destiny."

Higgs Candidate Event

A proton-proton collision event in the CMS experiment produces two high-energy photons (the red towers). This is what physicists would expect to see from the decay of a Higgs boson, but it is also consistent with background Standard Model physics processes.CERN

Physicists still get frustrated when people say the Higgs boson has been found--true, it's very probably been found, but the only thing that's been verified yet is that a boson has been discovered. Its mass is right around where the Higgs ought to be, and it sure seems like a Higgs boson, but no one is calling it final, at least not yet. Nevertheless, the tales of intrigue and jealousy and genius surrounding the hunt for the particle are coming to light in new books and periodicals. The latest comes today from the dean of physics journalism, Dennis Overbye of the New York Times.

The particle itself could be something from science fiction: It's a manifestation of an invisible, all-encompassing force field that permeates everything. The Higgs boson (named for theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed it with a team of researchers in 1964) is thought to endow particles with mass, "the way politicians draw succor from cheers and handshakes at the rope line," as Overbye puts it. And the story of its discovery is straight out of the movies, with romance, deceit, huge sums of money and high-stakes competition.

When its likely discovery was announced last summer, there were very public cheers, celebration and back-slapping from the rival teams working at the Atlas and CMS detectors in the Large Hadron Collider. But the search was far more serious, as this latest account demonstrates.

Go here to read "Chasing the Higgs Boson," Overbye's account of the teams who started closing in on the "Great White Whale of modern science."