Great expectations

Fermilab Director
Pier Oddone

I arrived in Australia a couple of days before the start of the International Conference on High Energy Physics to find articles in the newspapers predicting a “Big Bang” on July 4 when the latest Higgs results from the LHC will be presented at CERN. I and my fellow ICHEP attendees will watch the joint CMS and ATLAS seminar via a webcast. Many scientists will gather at Fermilab at 2 a.m. to watch the same webcast and start their Independence Day celebrations very, very early.

There is great anticipation here at Melbourne, at Fermilab and across the world for what will be revealed this week. Yesterday we presented the final Tevatron’s Higgs search results. DZero and CDF confirmed the strong hints we have had so far from both the Tevatron and the LHC but the results were not statistically significant enough to claim a Higgs discovery. While a discovery wasn’t in the cards for the Tevatron, yesterday’s results are still very important because they measure the Higgs as it decays to bottom quarks, a mode that is much more difficult to measure at the LHC. The LHC experiments have collected twice as much data since their last Higgs-search update; will they announce a more definitive result on Wednesday?

While we wait to hear what answer the LHC scientists have for us, it’s a good time to reflect on how much the global particle physics community has to be proud and thankful for.

The Tevatron discoveries, advances in technology and analysis methods have been well documented and recently celebrated. If the Higgs is there, the fact that the CDF and DZero experiments got as close as they did is extraordinary. The proton-antiproton collisions created at the Tevatron were very difficult to achieve, and no one ever expected the Tevatron to reach the high luminosities that made these latest results possible. Likewise, no one anticipated the great ingenuity of the scientists from the international Tevatron collaborations. They extracted more important physics out of their datasets than anyone expected, from the Higgs-search results, to the precision measurements of the top quark and the W boson, to the many exciting measurements in flavor physics.

The LHC is an extraordinary machine, running at a luminosity that already exceeds design specifications. The detectors of the LHC are marvels of technology and international collaboration. The performance of these detectors early in their lives has allowed sensitive searches for new phenomena, none more dramatic than the search for the Higgs. No matter when the decades-long Higgs hunt reaches a definitive conclusion – this week or later this year – it will be a truly momentous occasion that all the world’s particle physicists will celebrate. This achievement will be due to the great technical skill at CERN, the strong European support for CERN and the global collaboration that the LHC has enabled and that we all benefit from. As part of this global collaboration, Fermilab and more than 90 other US national labs and universities have made major contributions to the LHC accelerator and its detectors with support from DOE and NSF. A large fraction of the US particle physics community is now focused on the discovery opportunities at the LHC and have been critical components of the experiments’ Higgs searches.

And once we’ve heard the ATLAS and CMS results it will be important to remember that the LHC is still in its infancy. If the Higgs is there, with the hundreds of times greater luminosity that will be gathered in the coming years, it will be possible to study this new particle in great detail. Is it the Higgs that we all expect and love, or does it behave in different and unexpected ways? Are there other particles out there waiting to be found? New vistas for particle physics may be just around the corner!