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Decades of research pays off big with Higgs boson discovery

Posted by Ted Hsu on July 4, 2012 | No Comments

Today is a date in history to note for humankind and for our understanding of the universe.

Scientists at European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have announced that they believe they have found the elusive Higgs boson – the particle that elementary particles interact with to gain mass. The search began nearly 50 years ago with the invention of the mechanism for mass generation by Phil Anderson in the context of superconductivity. Its existence as a sub-atomic particle was first hypothesized by Peter Higgs.

On behalf of the Liberal Party I would like to congratulate the more than 100 Canadian researchers who have been working for many decades on this international collaboration at CERN.

While research into high energy physics certainly does not come cheaply, and we don’t always know immediately what practical uses the results of that research will have, understanding the universe we live in is an important activity that has never failed to give us tools by which we might move humanity forward and improve the lives of billions.

Canada has a tremendous history of contributing to basic research that has revolutionized the world. The most famous example is perhaps the discovery of insulin by Dr. Frederick Banting and his research assistant Charles Best working at the University of Toronto.

Sadly under Stephen Harper the Government of Canada is steadily walking away from funding basic research. For instance, the Natural Research Council has been ordered to turn away from early stage research and focus instead on direct commercial applications.

Granting councils like the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) have increasingly lost funding for basic research. Since 2006 funding for Discovery grants has fallen from $420 million to $360 million.

I’m sure that today we will all see and read many stories about the years of effort it has taken to find the Higgs boson. As we reflect on the significance of this accomplishment, I hope we take a moment to consider the thousands of basic research groups across this country. It is the curiosity and dedication of these researchers, along with funding to test their ideas, and heeding their expert advice and warnings that will help us build a healthier, more prosperous civilization for everyone.

– Ted Hsu

Liberal Science and Technology critic

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  1. Avatar of Jennifer Ross Jennifer Ross said on

    Hi Ted. I am as excited as you about the discovery, but I caution you, as one Liberal to another, to use evidence-based commenting :)

    They found a new boson. They don’t know at this time whether it has the properties expected of the Higgs boson. Either way, its terribly exciting because either it is proof that the Standard Model is true, or it may take us in an entirely different direction. But they didn’t definitively discover the Higgs Boson.

    But as to science in Canada, may I draw your attention, and everyone else who will be in the Ottawa area, to a rally on July 10th? http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/256363471136336/

    I urge you to share, Liberally!

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  2. Avatar of Ted Hsu Ted Hsu said on

    Hi Jennifer,

    Yes, I had my political communications hat on, and so yes, scientifically, you’d be careful and say that it’s a boson, and its properties still have to be determined.

    By the way, did you know that a version of the Higgs boson exists in superconductors as a collective excitation of the superconducting electrons? Photons gain a mass inside superconductors as a result of interacting with this boson.

    And yes, I will be attending the rally on July 10th. I’ll be there all day for the evolutionary biology conference. The rally is conveniently scheduled during the conference lunch break.

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    • Avatar of Jennifer Ross Jennifer Ross said on

      Thanks for that reply. No, I didn’t know that! I find quantum physics to be the most exciting and fascinating subject. Sadly, I’m really bad at math and only partially understand the stuff they’ve dumbed down for mass consumption :) But I try.

      I’m so pleased you’ll ensure our Liberal presence is felt at that rally. I’m hopeful you’ll be joined by others wearing red :)

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  3. Avatar of Leila Paul Leila Paul said on

    I’m not sure that I agree that science “will help us build a healthier, more prosperous civilization for everyone.” I still am distrustful of genetic engineering of our foods and food animals.

    However, this is not the time to cut back on research especially in relation to protecting our drinking water sources and retaining the natural nutritional values of foods. We and our food sources have evolved together and one must not outpace the other.

    Further, research creates lines of communications across boundaries and could create productive jobs for students now doing research.

    If Harper’s people claim their focus is job-generating research, that too is short-sighted. Environmental degradation in the pursuit of creating jobs may make give the jobs created little meaning in a blighted world.

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