Tomorrow, the Nobel prize in physics will most likely be awarded to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert. Along with other researchers, the two physicists are credited with the 1964 introduction of the then-theoretical Higgs field–a fluid that permeates every corner of the universe and gives each particle a distinct mass. The physical manifestation of this field, the Higgs boson particle, was finally confirmed in March of 2013.
How did researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) find the evidence needed to prove this illusive particle exists? The LHC records subatomic debris produced by colliding protons, and the data produced can hint at new phenomena. But to find the Higgs boson, researchers first needed to clear away the background noise created by known particles, which can mask the evidence of the Higg’s presence. The Higgs decays much too quickly to be detected, but particular modes of that rapid-fire decay process can be spotted, and amount to evidence of the particle that once was. The drawings here, part of a feature on the research that finally proved the particle’s existence (paywall), show four decay modes of the Higgs.
Click to enlarge. Illustration by George Retseck (expected scenarios); CERN (observed signals from CMS detector)