Staying up late for the Higgs

Fermilab employees, users and friends applaud CERN’s announcement of a new particle discovery. Photo: Reidar Hahn

On July 4 at 2 a.m., around 200 people across all age groups packed into One West. It wasn’t for early-morning fireworks – for this audience, it was something better. Projected on the big screen was a live feed from Geneva, Switzerland, and over the speakers came a historic announcement – the Higgs boson, or something an awful lot like it, was discovered.

When Joe Incandela, spokesperson for CERN’s CMS experiment, and ATLAS spokesperson Fabiola Gianatti presented the Large Hadron Collider’s five-sigma results and CERN Director-General Rolf-Dieter Heuer said the word – “I think we have it” – the Fermilab crowd erupted into applause. To so many who worked on the search for the Higgs, the moment was emotional.

“It’s the result of an effort of a lot of people working very hard to uncover these results,” said Patty McBride, head of the CMS Center at Fermilab.

“I was shocked to see so many people, and the thing I was gratified about was how many young people were here,” said CMS physicist Don Lincoln. “So many young people gave up their night to come here and see physics. I’m very happy.”

Some of those young people wanted to see even more. Postdoc Michelle Medeiros said she wished she could have been in Geneva to ask questions.

Another postdoc, Yasuyuki Okumura, found the results from Geneva encouraging.

“It might not be the Higgs, but already we have something new for understanding electroweak symmetry,” Okumura said. “These are very interesting things, essential things.”

“We started working in the designing and the computing of the experiments 20 years ago,” said CMS physicist Dan Green, who started the CMS effort at Fermilab. “It’s taken us a long time. From here, it’s going to be a wild ride.”

—Joseph Piergrossi