I recently had occasion to e-chat with Rocky Kolb, a well-regarded astronomer and astrophysicist at the University of Chicago. Talk turned, of course, to the recent likely discovery of the Higgs boson -- but, as Kolb talk about that, he raised an even broader and more interesting point about scientific discovery.
He was good enough to write up his thoughts in a guest blog post that I am pleased to present below:
Faster Than Light
By Rocky Kolb
After the news coverage of the past week, everyone now understands what a Higgs particle is, and why physicists were so excited about the July 4th announcement of its probable discovery at CERN, a huge European physics accelerator laboratory. (The disclaimer “probable” is because it could turn out that the new particle seen at CERN is not the Higgs after all, but an imposter particle with properties like the Higgs.)
For a few days it was common to see, hear, or read my colleagues struggling to explain why the discovery of a Higgs particle is a triumph for science. But after a week of physics in the news, the media has moved on to cover the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes divorce and shark sightings near beaches. Perhaps all the public will be left with is a memory that there was a triumph for science. Science works: theories are tested and confirmed by experiment.
I think that the CERN Higgs discovery was, indeed, a triumph for science. However, the Higgs was not the only dramatic announcement at CERN in the past year. But the other dramatic result is something many physicists would rather forget.