Emily Conover spent one of the most consequential moments in recent physics history in a cavern near a nuclear power plant in France.
At the time, Conover was a Ph.D. student in particle physics (she’s now physics senior writer for Science News). She was part of a team building a detector in the cavern to observe elusive particles called neutrinos. It was the Fourth of July 2012. A few hundred kilometers away, scientists were announcing the discovery of another elusive subatomic particle, the Higgs boson, which physicists had been hunting for decades. As hundreds of researchers cheered in the main auditorium at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Conover and the small group of physicists in the chilly French cavern cheered too, as did scientists worldwide. The Higgs boson filled in a missing piece in the standard model of particle physics, which explains just about everything known about the particles that make up atoms and transmit the forces of nature. No Higgs boson, no life as we know it.
In this issue’s cover story, “The Higgs boson at 10,” Conover looks back at the excitement around the discovery of the Higgs boson and looks ahead to the many things that researchers hope to find out with its help. She also reviews a new biography of Peter Higgs, a modest man who made clear that he was just one of many scientists who contributed to the breakthrough.
The discovery is part of Science News history too. Journalists around the world were eagerly awaiting the big announcement, which was being kept under wraps. But when Kate Travis, a Science News editor at the time, uncovered an announcement video accidentally posted early on CERN’s website, we published the big news the day before the official announcement.
“Even though its discovery is 10 years old now, that’s still new in the grand scheme of particle physics, so we’re still learning lots about it,” Conover told me. “It’s very cool that I get the opportunity to write about this particle that is still so new to science.” And it’s very cool that we get to explore it with her.