Chasing the Higgs, New York Times, March 2013

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My contribution is in "Still Missing" section:

October 2011: Too Big to Ignore

In the fall, there was a changing of the guard in Atlas. Eilam Gross, a former rock musician complete with earring and a Lou Reed haircut, from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, joined Dr. Murray as co-convenor of the Higgs search, filling in for a colleague who was going on maternity leave.

Dr. Gross had followed an unlikely route to this mission. After serving in the Israeli military as an intelligence officer, he was studying sound engineering in New York when he happened to read “The Tao of Physics,” by Fritjof Capra, a popular book melding physics and Eastern thought.

He dropped everything and went back to Israel, studied string theory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and then moved on to experimental work, all the while trying to keep up his music career.

He became what he called a “Higgs soldier” while working on the LEP accelerator. “There are 6,000 Higgs soldiers,” he said of the Large Hadron Collider, “and they all deserve the Nobel Prize.”

He had been applying for the Higgs job in Atlas for years, and had given up until he got a call one day.

When it finally happened for him, Dr. Gross recalled expressing some trepidation about his new role. “What will I do?” he asked.

Dr. Murray told him not to worry, he was going to have the time of his life.

It didn’t take long.

While physicists fretted about the death of the Higgs, something was happening out in the wilds of uncertainty. One bump on physicists’ charts, from the W bosons, was disappearing. But another was blooming like the shy girl at a dance.

In retrospect, nobody could remember exactly when she had come in. But she was the one who would marry the prince.

The bump may have appeared as early as May. It was then, Dr. Murray said, that the Atlas group had discovered an “excess” in gamma rays corresponding to a mass of about 128 billion electron volts. (By comparison, a proton, the building block of the atomic nucleus, is about a billion electron volts.) The bump corresponded to a single particle, a flake of hypothetical energy, that weighed as much as an atom of iodine.

Nobody paid any attention. “End of story,” Dr. Murray said.

The bump persisted, rising and falling as data from more collisions and more channels were added, and kept being dismissed. It continued to grow over the fall until it had reached the 3-sigma level — the chances of being a fluke were less than 1 in 740, enough for physicists to admit it to the realm of “evidence” of something, but not yet a discovery.

Dr. Gianotti recalled being shown the bump during a meeting. Her reaction was characteristically guarded: “Hmm, hmm. That was nice, but let’s hope.”

Dr. Gross had a markedly different reaction. One evening late in November, he was in Paris at a workshop, staying at a colleague’s house. After a wine-soaked meal and some grappa, he fell asleep on the couch.

While he slept, a new data analysis came in from CERN. At 3 a.m. his colleagues Marumi Kado and Alex Read decided to wake up their gently snoring boss. They asked him if he wanted to see the Higgs boson.

Dr. Gross jumped up. “What? Where?” he asked. As he described it later in a blog post, they were all in a state of shock. The bump was too big to ignore anymore.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes. We looked at the screen for ages before we started to digest what we were seeing,” he said. “I think this was the first time Marumi, me and Alex realized it could be the real thing.”

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