10 July 2012

What does the Higgs boson Look Like?

The by-line for Kuriositas is art and science and all the groovy things in-between. So, when I heard about the massive three story tall mural which had been commissioned by the ATLAS experiment at CERN I knew I had to take a look. CERN, just in case you haven’t heard about it (possibly hiding from a localized zombie apocalypse?), is the European Organization for Nuclear Research and is the world's leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva.  Painted by international artist Josef Kristofoletti this magnificent mural shows his interpretation of what the Higgs boson might actually look like.

Even in art, timing is everything. It has been a great seven days for watching people (myself including) struggling with particle physics-lite in an attempt to understand the nature of the Higgs boson.  The one question that has come up several times among my teenage students is so, what does the Higgs boson look like, then? Although it may be an irrelevance to physicists, from the perspective of the person in the street I think that is a really, really good question!

So, with an artist’s prescience, Kristofoletti set about a year ago to show the world what he thought the Higgs boson might look like and ensured that his progress was photographed and then made in to the marvelous time lapse movie you can see at the top of this post.  Art and science come together wonderfully here - there is no way (unless....) that Kristofoletti could know that almost as soon as he unveiled his mural, humanity would take a huge collective step forward, scientifically. Scientists and artist pose, effectively, the same question here - what does it mean to be human, and what is our place in the universe? This year, they provided a response to those questions at an almost simultaneous moment in time.

The word serendipity comes to mind here – a happy accident. Kristofoletti finished his mural in June of this year. CERN scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) just last week claimed their breakthrough – the discovery of a new particle which they were 99.9% sure was the Higgs boson. This was the culmination of a 45 year pursuit to explain how matter attains its mass. It is marvellous that the discovery of the Higgs boson coincides with Kristofoletti’s impression of what it might look like.

All images are reproduced here with the permission of Josef Kristofoletti.