UC Berkeley physicists hold panel on Higgs boson

From left to right: Louise Skinnari, Josh Ruderman, Beate Heinemann, Marjorie Shapiro and Lawrence Hall where all panelists.
Joe Wright/Staff
From left to right: Louise Skinnari, Josh Ruderman, Beate Heinemann, Marjorie Shapiro and Lawrence Hall where all panelists.

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Bodies were colliding like excited atoms in a nuclear accelerator as an estimated 500 UC Berkeley students, alumni and community members overflowed into the aisles of the Chan Shun Auditorium Friday afternoon for a panel discussion on the Higgs boson discovery.

UC Berkeley physicists, whose work helped lead to the discovery, led the panel discussion “The Higgs Boson Explained: What is the Higgs and Why is Everyone So Excited About it?” to explain the Higgs boson, a newfound elementary particle that had been theorized over for more than 50 years.

It was announced July 4 that the new particle was discovered by both the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research that is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

“If (the Higgs boson) wasn’t there, we wouldn’t have humans or galaxies,” said campus associate professor of physics Beate Heinemann during the panel discussion. “It is a critical particle and we wouldn’t have mass without it. It is fundamentally different from other particles.”

The particle accelerator that hosted the experiments is the Large Hadron Collider — an accelerator with a 27-kilometer circumference on the Swiss-French border near Geneva and the testing site for ATLAS and CMS — according to Heinemann.

Panel moderator and College of Letters and Science Executive Dean Mark Richards described the accelerator as the most complicated machine ever built by mankind, which draws 5,000 scientists from around the world “all in the search for truth and beauty.”

The discussion had a delayed start due to the overly large crowd who had to be cleared from the aisles by the the campus fire marshal.

But panelist Louise Skinnari, a UC Berkeley doctoral student and ATLAS experiment member, said it was exciting to see such public attention and mainstream reporting of the discovery.

“I’m amazed by the public interest and media attention,” Skinnari said. “I really hope it continues and spreads interest about these issues.”

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau was also in attendance and opened up the panel by stating that the discovery “deals with the fundamental nature of the universe.”

The particle has widely been referred to as “the God particle,” since it is thought to be the origin of all mass. When asked about whether this term was an appropriate designator for the particle, all of the panelists rejected the notion as either meaningless or misleading.

Andrew Critch, a mathematics doctoral student who arrived early enough for a seat, said he was in attendance to gain a more specific understanding of Higgs boson and out of sheer interest in the nature of the universe.

“I wanted to come because I read lots of pop culture news about it,” Critch said. “I wanted to get an independent view of it that I wouldn’t find Googling.”

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  • Berserkly

    I’m guessing what they’ve discovered is more of a force, like gravity than an actual particle, unless the particle exerts the force that holds other particles together…atomic glue, as it were. There may not be language to describe it…what if that happens?

    • Calipenguin

      From what I understand they discovered a particle with the right amount of mass. This particle might explain how the energy from the Big Bang created solid matter from nothing, and that kind of ties in with the story in Genesis.

  • Lord Haw-Haw.

    Having the Auditorium filled to capacity reflects the academic and public interest level, no doubt vendors on nearby Telegraph Avenue will be hawking Higgs t-shirts in the foreseeable future (Some years ago I recollect up at the Lawrence Laboratory they were selling Stephen Hawking t-shirts in the public shop). We live in exciting times and are indebted to those who shine the lantern of truth and reason on this World and Universe we collectively inhabit.

    As the great Harlow Shapley observed: “Theories crumble, but good observations never fade.”
    …… Well done to the UC Berkeley physicists et al for your contribution!

    • John

      Having the [small] Auditorium filled to capacity reflects [the chancellor spamming the entire Berkeley community — students, staff, faculty — with a message about the event].

    • Calipenguin

      The Lawrencium T-shirts at the LHS are pretty cool.

  • oskicub

    dibs on the middle one. I like to stick it into the crazy

  • chyea

    dibs on one on the left