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Explaining Higgs boson and "Particle Fever"

May 1, 2014

Robert Wilson, a physics professor at Colorado State University, is answering questions about the discovery of the Higgs boson particle on Saturday at the Lyric Cinema following a 6:30 p.m. showing of the documentary "Particle Fever."

For a few hours in 1981, Colorado State University professor Robert Wilson thought he may have discovered the Higgs boson particle – which has eluded physicists for years.

Then a doctoral student, Wilson was combing through data gathered from a new experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center's Positron Electron Project and plotting it on a graph.

The figure that took shape resembled what one would expect if the Higgs particle were detected.

“It started to look like something was going on,” Wilson said.

But he double-checked his data, he realized the selection of the final handful of events, out of thousands in the inital sample, had a bias that mimicked the signal of a Higgs particle. 

Thirty years later, in 2012, a team of thousands of scientists actually did discover particle using the Large Hadron Collider at a research facility outside Geneva. Using the 17-mile underground track, scientists shot beams of protons travelling nearly the speed of light until they collided and spewed sub-nuclear particles that were measured in massive multistory detectors.

 The team proved some of the collisions produce the Higgs particles, which exist for a tiny fraction of a second, and are an essential part of the theory that explains how elementary particles have mass and affected how the universe formed.

A small group of scientists began documenting the project and the excitement surrounding it. The resulting documentary, “Particle Fever,” is now playing at the Lyric Cinema, 300 E. Mountain Ave. in Fort Collins. 

On Saturday, May 3, after the 6:30 p.m. showing, Wilson will answer questions about the movie, talk about how the opportunity to discover the Higgs in the U.S. was lost and about a massive new international project he co-leads whose discoveries will shed light on how the universe as we now see it came into existence.