FAITH Magazine March – April 2012
Higgs Boson Detected?
After a hard year's work at the Centre Européene pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) in Geneva, the thousands of particle physicists involved in trying to detect the famous "Higgs boson" were able to give some exciting preliminary results at the end of 2011. Background to this research was given in the Cutting Edge column of the Nov/Dec 2011 edition of the Faith magazine. Before an audience of many of the CERN scientists, results were presented by two of the teams working independently at CERN using different detectors on the Large Hadron Collider. One team analyses detections using the ATLAS detector, the other uses the CMS detector.
As the two experiments continue to gather collision data, so the range possible for the mass of the Higgs boson is gradually being narrowed: ATLAS results imply a possible mass range of 116-130GeV; the CMS group shows it could only lie in the range 115-127GeV. But, more excitingly, each group, independently, is already finding a hint of a discovery at c. 125GeV (this is about 133 times the mass of the proton = hydrogen nucleus). What the two groups have found is the beginnings of a detection "bump": ATLAS team quotes a tentative result at 125-126GeV with a statistical significance of 3.6 σ (3.6 standard deviations); the CMS team finds one at 124GeV at a lower confidence level of 2.6 σ. For comparison, a definite "discovery" would not be acceptable scientifically below a confidence levelof 5 σ, and so for the time being the CERN scientists are keen to downplay the results and look towards obtaining much more data in 2012 so as to make a more definitive assessment by the end of the year.
As stated in the CERN press release, the new ATLAS and CMS results are "sufficient to make significant progress in the search for the Higgs boson, but not enough to make any conclusive statement on the existence or non-existence of the elusive Higgs. Tantalising hints have been seen by both experiments in the same mass region, but these are not yet strong enough to claim a discovery." Both Fabiola Gianotti and Guido Tonelli - the leaders of the two teams - are optimistic that they can gain enough data in 2012 for a definite result: either that the Higgs has been discovered in that mass range, or that there is no evidence of the Higgs at all. Each will be keen to press on with data acquisition throughout the coming year, as the LHC is due for a long closure at the end of the year so thatit can be upgraded to achieve its full design operating energy.
Croatian Jesuit Scientist Hailed
Croatia kept 2011 as a special year of honour in memory of a famous son of that country. Fr Ruder Josip Boskovic, born 300 years earlier, was a Jesuit and a scientist. At a conference at the Gregorian University in Rome in December, his important contribution to science, and to the faith-science dialogue, was commemorated. The Croatian provincial of the Jesuits, Fr Anto Tustonjic, hailed him, and said: "We also wish to propose this model of a man of science to young people ... [as] Boskovic said that whoever considers all that is created as only the result of chance cannot make a bigger mistake."
The conference reinforced the high opinion of the Pope who, when visiting Croatia earlier in 2011, stated that Father Boskovic "is a good illustration of the happy symbiosis of faith and scholarship, each stimulating the other through research that is at the same time open, diversified and capable of synthesis. His principal work, Theoria philosophiae naturalis, bears a highly significant sub-title ... 'according to the one law of the forces existing in nature.' In Boskovic, there is analysis, there is study of multiple branches of knowledge, but there is also a passion for unity. This is typical of Catholic culture. ... the experts say that his theory of 'continuity,' which holds true both in the natural sciences and in geometry, accords well with some of the great discoveriesof modern physics."
Vatican Faith-Science Foundation
The Vatican has announced the creation of a new Science and Faith Foundation as the next stage of the nine year STOQ (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest) project that has linked the Church's Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Universities in Rome. The director of the new Foundation, Fr Tomasz Trafny of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said: "I don't think most people necessarily see science and faith as being opposed but I do think there is confusion as to where to put faith and where to put science in their life. ... So the question for us is how to offer a coherent vision of society, culture and the human being to people who would like to understand where to put these dimensions - the spiritual and religious and the scientific."
The foundation will exist as an entity in its own right within Church law, and Fr Trafny explains: "This is an important step, because we are moving from being a simple project to merge learning between the pontifical universities in Rome to being a new entity recognised by the Holy Father as a reference point for all dialogue involving science and faith." Let us hope and pray that this new Foundation will further the important cause of understanding and synthesis that is at the heart of the Faith Movement's mission.
After almost a dozen years this is the last time that Fr (and Doctor of Astronomy) Philip Miller, Parish Priest of Hoddesdon, will be writing this column. We are very grateful for the wide range of information and insight he has shared with our readers.