Peter Higgs, the man who first posited the existence of a so-called “God particle” 50 years ago, never imagined it would be found in his lifetime. Proof of the existence of the Higgs boson earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013 and now, in 2015, the largest experiment ever built is gearing up for round two. The Large Hadron Collider, originally launched in 2008 and designed to “replay” the original Big Bang, is scheduled to fire up again at twice its original speed in just about one month’s time.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), 17 miles long and buried more than 20 stories underground, is situated between the Jura mountains in France and Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Though originally launched in 2008, the experiment experienced failures, hold-ups, and nearly constant conferring among the international scientific community before, in April of 2012, the first data proving the existence of the Higgs particle set the scientific world on fire. It was the discovery of something that’s not made of anything—proof that smashing particles together within an energy field referred to as the Brout-Englert-Higgs field can create a particle—the Higgs particle.
Jon Butterworth, a leading physicist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) was at the forefront of the initial run of the Large Hadron Collider. His book, MOST WANTED PARTICLE: The Inside Story of the Hunt for the Higgs, the Heart of the Future of Physics, released on January 27, is the first-ever insider account of the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. As a leading physicist on the ATLAS project in Geneva, Switzerland during the hunt for the Higgs, Jon Butterworth was there every step of the way. His account is a careful reconstruction of the messiness, uncertainty and humanness of the experiment. He takes readers of all levels through not just the hard science, but the media scrutiny, the late-night pub debates, and the unbelievable pressure to generate results.
And now, the media fervor is catching once again. Over the past few weeks, the LHC’s restart has become a Twitter hashtag (#RestartLHC), an important story in headlines, and even a cause for panic for some. News sources including The National, NBC, BBC, Discovery News, among many others, have all included features on the big restart. And once again, Jon Butterworth is at the forefront. He has crafted an “Are you ready for Run 2” quiz for The Guardian, American Scientist ran an excerpt of MOST WANTED PARTICLE in anticipation of the restart, and his book was featured in Symmetry Magazine as a new must-read physics book.
With the LHC set to restart in just a few short weeks, we tend to agree with the media that now is the time to dive into MOST WANTED PARTICLE. What, exactly, is the significance of this experiment? As the world of physics is poised to be rewritten once again, now is the time to learn why and how physics was changed forever after the first glimpse of the elusive Higgs particle and where it will go from here.
Jon Butterworth is one of the leading physicists at the Large Hadron Collider and is Head of Physics and Astronomy at University College London. He writes the popular Life & Physics blog for the Guardian and has written articles for a range of publications including the Guardian and New Scientist. For the last 13 years, he has divided his time between London and Geneva, Switzerland.