Archive for December, 2011

They seek him here, they seek him there . . .

A few months ago they said they might have missed it. Now they’re claiming they may have glimpsed it. The Higgs Boson particle is proving as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is of course a fictional character: a foppish English aristo who risks his life to save French aristos from the guillotine during the reign of terror, but he does share a number of important characteristics with the Higgs Boson particle.

1) He constantly eludes detection

2) No one is quite sure if he exists or if he is just a myth.

Imagine the Higgs boson was a person rather than a particle. Say a clever and resourceful jewel thief, wanted all over Europe but no one knows for certain who he is or what he looks like. A French professor claiming to have seen him reports his sighting to the local gendarmerie.

‘So professor, you say you saw Higgs Boson.’

‘Yes. Yes, I did,’ the professor replies. The man is red faced and excited and the detective wonders if he has been drinking.

‘And where was this professor?’

‘It was in the tunnel at Cern.’

The detective leans forward eagerly. He can see the headlines now: Inspector Clouseau – the man who brought Higgs Boson in. ‘I need to know when, and more importantly I need a description – what did this man look like?’

The professor looks stricken. He hesitates. ‘Well, it was . . . erm, very dark in there. ‘

‘But, you saw him, right?’

‘It was more in the nature of a glimpse actually . . . ‘

‘A glimpse! The detective shouts, then in a calmer voice,  ‘Just how long was he visible for?’

‘Well, it ‘s hard to be absolutely precise about that.’ The professor pulls a sheaf of computer printouts from the briefcase he’s been clutching, ‘If you take a look at these numbers, you can see there’s a spike in the data just here . . .’

The detective sighs. ‘Thank you professor. I don’t think we need detain you any longer.’

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