The Higgs Boson has finally made an appearance on stage at the LHC (large hadron collider)! Looks like the fireworks are in Europe this 4th of July. The last element of the standard model has been empirically confirmed leaving us with 12 constituent particles, 4 forces, and the Higgs boson for mass (not shown) to predict most of what we see in the observable universe.
Back in 1995 I had the good fortune to be sitting in the class of astrophysicist Alan Guth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Guth), co-inventor of Inflationary model of the Big Bang which explained the uniformity of the cosmic background radiation discovered by physicists Penzias (now at NEA!) and Wilson. As I recall it, in the middle of class a postdoc came in and whispered to Guth. He then announced to the class that the last quark (the “top”) had been found at Fermilab and discussed how it significantly strengthened the standard model of particle physics and how hard the Higgs would be to find after cancellation of the 40 TeV Superconducting Supercollider in Texas and how long we would have to wait for Europe to build the planned large Hadron Collider (17 TeV).
A failure to find the Higgs would have been perhaps more exciting, as it would have unlocked a flurry of theoretical creativity. However, I think there is something satisfying about having the world behave in a consistent manner the deeper you probe. Moreover, the Higgs is an important part of connecting the very small (particles) to the very large (gravitation). Many mysteries remain to be unraveled: what the evidence of dark matter/energy means, non-uniformity of the heliosphere, means of unification of the Standard Model with General Relativity, and of course we can always hope that the specific details of the Higgs may yet confound.
In the 18 years since the discovery of the top quark, only one more of the fundamental particles, the tau neutrino, were discovered. This one was also uncovered by US-based Fermilab, finally shut down last year by the USG (yes, I’m ignoring anti-particle discoveries). Although we handed the baton of leadership in this quest over to Europe’s HLC two decades ago by shutting down the Texas collider, the whole world has contributed physicists and ingenuity to this profound discovery. Let’s fix healthcare so we have the budget to help support the $20-25B International Linear Collider at Fermilab and continue to lead in the quest for fundamental new discoveries.