Higgs Boson: The Untold Story of a Big Discovery: “The Particle at the End of the Universe” (Sean Carroll)

I wrote this article in Japanese and translated it into English using ChatGPT. I also used ChatGPT to create the English article title. I did my best to correct any translation mistakes, but please let me know if you find any errors. By the way, I did not use ChatGPT when writing the Japanese article. The entire article was written from scratch by me, Saikawa Goto.



Movies and books covered in this article

(Click This Image to Go Directly to the Amazon.com sales page “The Particle at the End of the Universe”: Image from Amazon.com)

I will write an article about this movie/book

Three takeaways from this article

  1. Why did the discovery of the “Higgs boson” become such a big topic?
  2. How difficult was it to discover the “Higgs boson”?
  3. Why were the researchers who contributed to the discovery of the “Higgs boson” unable to receive a Nobel Prize?

In this article, we will not explain the “Higgs boson” itself, but instead focus on the behind-the-scenes spotlight.

Self-introduction article

Please refer to the self-introduction article above to learn about the person writing this article. Be sure to check out the Kindle book linked below as well.

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

The quotes in the article were translated using ChatGPT from Japanese books, and are not direct quotes from the foreign language original books, even if they exist.

About the Organization of This Article

This book is rare among those written by scientists in that there are few “scientific descriptions.” Of course, there is an explanation of the mysterious existence of the “Higgs boson,” and scientific descriptions are used for that explanation. However, the main focus of this book is not there.

The search for the Higgs boson is not simply about fundamental particles or complex theories. It is also a story of budgets, politics, and jealousy. The project involves a great many people, unprecedented international cooperation, and a significant number of technical breakthroughs. To realize such an enormous project, a certain degree of cleverness, dealing, and even fraud is necessary at times.

The content of this book is mainly about how scientists discovered the “Higgs boson,” and it’s more like a documentary than a scientific book. So in this article, I won’t go into detail about the “Higgs boson” itself or the “Standard Model” necessary for its explanation. Instead, let’s explore the current state of modern science through the story of the discovery of the “Higgs boson.”

By the way, I think the “scientific descriptions” in this book are written quite easily, so even people who don’t have much knowledge of science can give it a try.

Learning From the Discovery of the “Higgs Boson,” the Scale of Modern Science, and the Difficulty of “Scientific Evaluation”

The Discovery and Significance of the “Higgs Boson”

Physicist Lyn Evans from Wales, who led the project to completion despite the challenging journey and had more responsibility than anyone else in the construction plans of the LHC, confessed “I was taken aback” when he witnessed the impeccable results of the two experiments.

The term “taken aback” not only expresses surprise that something difficult to find was actually discovered, but also suggests the existence of another emotion. For example, scientist Ooguri Hiroshi accurately expressed the feeling of the Higgs boson discovery announcement in his book:

I chewed on the surprise and excitement that the natural world really has adopted the Standard Model.

“弱い力と強い力 ヒッグス粒子が宇宙にかけた魔法を解く”(Ooguri Hiroshi/Gentosha)

Humans were amazed to discover that the “fantasy product” of their own thinking, the “Higgs boson,” was actually adopted as part of the world’s mechanism.

This book was published at a time when it was considered highly likely that the Higgs boson had been discovered. After the publication of this book, the discovery of the Higgs boson was confirmed and later received the Nobel Prize.

The discovery of the “Higgs boson” was covered extensively by the media, which is unusual for a scientific topic.

After reading this book, you would understand why scientists were excited about the discovery of the Higgs boson. Peter Higgs, one of the prophets who predicted the existence of the Higgs boson as the final piece of the “Standard Model,” said that the discovery was difficult.

In fact, at the age of 83, he, who was in the room to listen to a seminar, was clearly emotional when he said, “I didn’t think this moment would come while I was still alive.”

Given that they finally found such a thing, it is natural to rejoice.

The reason why the public, not the scientists, made a big deal about it probably has to do with the nickname “the God Particle,” which is a common name for the “Higgs boson. I think that from a media point of view, it was very catchy and easy to convey that “something important had been discovered.”

There was also some inaccurate information that the Higgs boson was the origin of mass, but in reality, it only contributes about 1% of mass while other effects involve to the rest.

Well, let’s talk about the term “the God Particle” (I don’t know how it was in the West, but in Japan it was much talked about as “神の粒子 (the God Particle)”). Coupled with the “origin of mass” information, you may think that Higgs boson would be named “a very important being = God.” But it is not. In fact, it is this.

When a scientist wrote a book about the Higgs boson, he wanted to title it “The Goddamn Particle” (maybe because it was so hard to discover and he was getting frustrated). However, the publisher did not accept this title, and they eventually settled on “The God Particle.” This has spread and is now commonly used to refer to the Higgs boson.

So, what does the discovery of “Higgs boson” mean scientifically?

The discovery of Higgs is not the end of particle physics. Higgs boson is the last piece of the Standard Model, but it also serves as a window into the physics beyond the Standard Model. In the years and decades to come, we will explore various phenomena and investigate their properties using Higgs. These phenomena include dark matter, supersymmetry, and extra dimensions. Other, it also includes all phenomena that should be verified in conjunction with the rapidly growing new data. The discovery of Higgs marks the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.

Although there are still many mysterious areas in science, Higgs boson will be involved in the research of those areas. While we ordinary people may only think, “Wow, what an amazing discovery!” when we hear about scientific achievements, that is just the beginning of a new journey.

How Difficult is it to Search for “Higgs Boson”?

When we hear about “discovering the Higgs boson,” what kind of image do we have in mind? I agree, but usually it would be more like, “I understand what to look for, and then use a microscope or other tool to look for the desired object.”

But in reality, it’s not that simple.

In this book, there is a metaphor from another scientist (not the author) that expresses the difficulty of searching for the “Higgs boson.”

Searching for the Higgs boson is like looking for a few pieces of hay in a haystack. If we are looking for a needle in a haystack, we know we have found it when we find it. But if it’s all hay, it’s not that easy. The only way to distinguish is to examine every single piece of hay in the haystack. Then suddenly, we would realize that only one length of hay is more numerous than the others. What we are doing in the Higgs search is exactly like this.

When you hear this, you’ll understand it’s a pretty hopeless situation. Searching for a few pieces of hay in a haystack is an overwhelming task. It’s just hay everywhere they look. On top of that, they don’t even know what length of hay they’re looking for. They have to check every piece of hay and only then can they say, “Hey, there’s a bit more of this length of hay than the others,” and call it a “discovery.”

And this “hay” disappears in just “10 to the power of minus 21 seconds.” It’s hard to imagine, but “10 to the power of minus 21” is an extremely small number that means “a decimal point followed by 20 zeros and then a 1.” Anyway, it disappears in an instant.

That’s why scientists can’t check the “hay” itself. They have to observe the “traces of hay” and infer about the “hay”.

In this book, the process of searching for the “Higgs boson” is likened to a detective story.

Particle physics is like a detective story. In most cases, detectives can’t obtain tapes that record the entire course of events, eyewitness testimonies that leave no doubt, or signed confessions when they arrive at a crime scene. At best, they can only obtain a few random clues, such as partial fingerprints or small DNA samples. Detectives must piece together these clues to reconstruct the entire crime. That is the most essential part of their work. Experimental particle physicists have a similar job.

“Higgs boson” was discovered at a research facility called CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. At the facility called LHC, researchers can conduct “experiments which ‘might’ generate Higgs boson,” but it is not generated every time. It is like trying to find the footprints of a criminal among many trampled footprints where it is unknown whose footprints belong to whom.

That is why the scale of the experiment is enormous. CERN is a research institute that was born against the backdrop of international cooperation after World War II, and just constructing the LHC cost $9 billion. Researchers from 70 countries gather, and there are two teams of 3,000 researchers each just for searching for Higgs boson.

Large-scale experiments like this are called “big science” and have become the mainstream of scientific research in recent years. Or rather, it cannot help but to be.

A scientist in this book says,

It has become very difficult to achieve any progress recently, and LHC is a symbol of that. This situation is very different from 65 years ago when I was a doctoral student. At that time, I could conduct interesting experiments that would bring about significant developments alone and in just six months.

I read a lot of non-fiction books about science, and in the time when Einstein was alive, individual experimenters were able to make significant discoveries. Most of the great people who appear in physics and chemistry textbooks accomplished their achievements with a small team centered around them.

However, nowadays, it is impossible for an individual to make discoveries at the level that will later appear in textbooks (except for theoreticians). That’s because cutting-edge scientific research requires the use of expensive experimental facilities that have been built with huge amounts of money. And, as with the LHC, building such large-scale experimental facilities is not something that can be done by a single university or research institution; it must be tackled at the national level.

That’s why scientists need more “political power” and “fundraising” than ever before. The words “budgets, politics, and jealousy” mentioned earlier are exactly because of “Big Science.”

Who Should be Evaluated for the Discovery of the Higgs Boson?

The concept of “Big Science” also raises the question of who should be evaluated for discoveries.

In the past, it was clear who should be evaluated when experiments were small-scale. Regardless of whether they actually conducted the experiment (assistants could do it), the person who planned and worked to realize the experiment was evaluated.

However, it’s not so simple now. For example, the “Higgs boson” was discovered by a research team at CERN, which consisted of more than 6,000 researchers from two teams. Moreover, without the experimental facility called the LHC, it would never have been discovered, so people who were involved in the construction of the LHC or who have been running CERN might also be evaluated. Of course, there are people who predicted “Higgs boson.” Now, who deserves the credit?

If you’ve read this far, you might think, “Everyone worked hard! Isn’t that good enough?” However, it’s not that simple because there are some rules for the “Nobel Prize.”

The author also writes in this book:

What is really regrettable is that none of the experimenters who actually discovered the Higgs boson are likely to receive a Nobel Prize. The problem is the number of people; too many physicists are contributing to the experiment in too many ways, so it is impossible to select one, two, or three people based on reasonable grounds.

There are clear rules for the Nobel Prize. “It cannot be awarded posthumously,” “It is awarded to individuals, not organizations,” and “Only up to three people can win in a year.”

Regarding the discovery of the Higgs boson, if we ignore the Nobel Prize rules, the candidates would be “Higgs, who predicted it,” “CERN, the organization,” and “the research team of the Higgs boson.” However, since the prize cannot be given to an organization, they have to remove “CERN” and “the research team.” Also, even if they choose a specific person from these organizations, there will be a sense of unfairness, and the rule of “up to three people per year” is quite strict.

Furthermore, there is such story about the Higgs boson. In fact, there were two other teams that made predictions equivalent to the “Higgs boson” around the same time as Higgs. In the world of science, this kind of thing often happens, where individuals come up with similar ideas almost simultaneously. However, even in that case, it is possible that people who should be recognized are not evaluated due to the rule of “3 people per year”.

This book was published before “Higgs boson” won the Nobel Prize, but by the time I read the Japanese translation of this book, the Nobel Prize winners had been decided. The Nobel Prize often takes decades from the announcement of results to the award, but the award for the discovery of the Higgs boson was decided at an unprecedented speed. And as the author of this book feared, no experimentalist was awarded, only “Peter Higgs” was awarded.

When asked for comment by reporters about the announcement that “Higgs boson may have been discovered,” Higgs kept his response brief and said,

In the press room afterwards, reporters tried to get more comments from Higgs, but he declined, saying that on a day like today, the focus should be on the experimentalists.

Of course, theorists are doing a great job, but experimenters are also struggling similarly. Although scientific evaluation is not just about the Nobel Prize, in terms of public recognition, it is still on a different level. Winning the Nobel Prize can be very important for scientists. It may not be expected that the criteria for the Nobel Prize will change, but I hope for a world where people who have worked hard are properly evaluated.


In this book, the author delved deeply into the “periphery of scientific research” such as “the story of building the LHC”, “how to store massive amounts of experimental data”, and “the importance of fundamental research that is not directly tied to tangible benefits”. The strange existence of the “Higgs boson” may pique your intellectual curiosity, and it’s also interesting to learn about the behind-the-scenes of where scientists conduct their research.

The struggle of how much wisdom, time, and energy mankind has expended on something that can exist for only “10 to the power of minus 21 seconds” is very interesting, and it also allows us to understand how the activity of science enriches mankind. By reading this book, you may feel a little closer to the unfamiliar world of “scientists.”

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

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