Archive July 2012

Christchurch’s chance to be innovation central Peter Griffin Jul 31

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The blueprints for Christchurch are out and by and large, they represent an ambitious and progressive vision for the future of our second biggest city.

Interestingly, they also account for innovation and health precincts that could make Christchurch, already a major centre of excellence for electronics and high value manufacturing and with significant medical research activities, a major hub for R&D and medical research.

The innovation precinct

The proposed innovation precinct builds on EPIC (Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus) which has been funded by the BNZ and the Canterbury Business Recovery Trust and has rent-free land provided by the Christchurch City Council. EPIC will have about 30 hi-tech businesses located there in a similar move to the tech cluster taking shape on the Auckland waterfront at the Wynyard Quarter. This seems like a very good idea – having a stable of hi-tech companies located together close to the city centre. What else will form the innovation precinct? Everything is up in the air, but there are some obvious players in the mix, not least of which the yet to be established Advanced Technology Institute.

the innovation precinct’s location in the city

Here’s the vision statement from the blueprint document:

An Innovation Precinct based adjacent to the South Frame on the High Street Gateway is desirable. It will facilitate the establishment of a technology-based industry and research precinct within the central city, attracting new business and employment opportunities in high-value industry sectors. Development of the Precinct should consider appropriate opportunities to incorporate remaining heritage features of the area.

The precinct is proposed to be adjacent to the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology due to the synergies that exist and the leverage that can be obtained by linking up activities.

The innovation precinct could be expanded beyond the area that is indicated on the map, depending on demand from innovative businesses and research organisations. The innovation precinct also encompasses the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus (EPIC) temporary site, known as the EPIC Sanctuary. This is a private sector initiative to bring displaced innovative businesses together in the city centre.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, CERA and CCC (including Canterbury Development Corporation), in partnership or cooperation with industry, will facilitate the creation of the Innovation Precinct, including developing a business case, and possibly securing tenants,

and contracting property developers and designers. The innovation precinct will be well designed to stimulate collaborative activity.

The Innovation Precinct could draw on skills and knowledge developed at Lincoln University and the University of Canterbury. It can also leverage the seven of the eight New Zealand science-based Crown Research Institutes that have facilities or headquarters in the region and city including institutes specialising in agriculture, plant and food research, land management and industrial research.

The health precinct

Slightly more intriguing is the proposed health precinct, which is imagined as a centre for health research incorporating Christchurch hospital, presumably the Otago School of Medicine Christchurch campus and the private sector. In fact, the private sector is the project lead on the precinct proposal, suggesting extensive partnerships between private health companies and public health and medical researchers. What sort of partnerships does CERA envisage?

the planned health precinct

According to the blueprints:

The proposed Health Precinct would include…

• Allied health – partnerships between industry and clinicians

• Medi-hotels – where patients and families can stay while receiving outpatient or specialist care

• A knowledge campus – providing clinical education and training

• A research campus – public and private research activities

• Private and public services delivering health care in and near the new ambulatory care hub

It all sounds rather ambitious – patients checking into medi hotels, researchers working with drug companies on clinical trials, medical training centres. Much of this is done already, but developing a precinct to service this type of specific activity seems like a good idea – if it can gain critical mass and attract the support of the private sector.

the proposed health precinct

Christchurch was a hub of innovation in New Zealand before the quakes – from the electronics cluster with Tait at its centre, to NZi3 and the Hit Lab at the University of Canterbury, to the software start-ups sprinkled around the city centre, it always was one of the places to be for aspiring hi-tech entrepreneurs.

The quakes have given the city a unique opportunity to build on this capability, to establish areas of the city suited to innovative research and development in the tech and health sectors. I can’t think of a better way to help revitalise Christchurch and make it a place Cantabrians – and others, want to live and work.

Its official: smokers are filthy litterbugs Peter Griffin Jul 30


The University of Otago Department of Public Health’s scientific war on smokers continues with new research undertaken in Wellington showing 77 per cent of smokers having a cigarette in public places throw their butts on the ground.

It may seem a trivial matter but consider this – around 5.6 trillion cigarettes are smoked anually, resulting in cigarette butt wastage comprising 2.8 billion litres by volume. Those butts end up on the ground, then in drains, then in the sea where they are a risk to marine life.

The only previous study of this kind studied 530 smokers in the US and found a littering rate of 65%. The New Zealand study, published last week in the British Medical Journal, took place over several weeks and had scientists doing their best Jason Bourne impressions as they attempted to discretely tail 219 smokers as they wandered around central Wellington…

The observer walked on one side of the pavement until the first active smoker was observed walking either in front of them or past them. At that point the smoker was discreetly followed (maintaining a minimum distance of at least 5m) and continuously observed until the point of butt discarding (even if they left the designated circuit streets). To minimise the chance of a smoker realising that they were being observed, the observer only attended to those people smoking who were walking and could not easily see the observer (ie, not standing/sitting or waiting at a bus stop). If a walking smoker did suddenly stop (eg, to use an ATM), the observer discreetly stopped some distance away and became preoccupied with some typical activity.

Little did I know that the scientists were prowling Manners St. where the Science Media Centre is based, tapping away on an iPod Touch every time a smoker flicked a butt away. But I can relate to the problem they are trying to explore. I regularly see smokers standing outside office blocks along Manners St. finishing up their smoko break by flicking their butts into the bus lane where they continue to smolder until crushed by the wheels of a big yellow bus.

The results

Wellington central – ground zero for butt flickers

Of the 219 walking smokers observed over 40 hours on consecutive Fridays and Saturdays in September 2011:

- 77% littered.

- 73,5% didn’t extinguish their cigarettes.

-  3.7% dropped them unextinguished into bins.

- 3.7% dropped them directly into storm water drains.

that’s despite the fact that there is a bin every 24 metres on the streets included in the study and 23 of those bins has cigarette butt receptacles built into them.

Some other interesting tidbits from the study…

- Smokers were more likely to litter at night than during lunchtime.

- Roll your own tobacco smokers were more likely to litter than those smoking tailored cigarettes

- More smokers littered on Saturdays than on Fridays.

I don’t delight in dishing hate on smokers. But I think smoking is a habit that has no redeeming features and I particularly dislike seeing young people smoking because they’ll later regret every puff.

But if you are going to smoke, have the decency to clean up after yourself. Don’t throw butts on the ground or in drains and if you are going to use a bin, make sure you put it out before you throw it in there, so as to avoid a bin fire.

Otago’s public health researchers have been active on tobacco control and most recently grabbed headlines when they produced research to show smokers pollute the air, particularly at bus stops.

According to the research, only 129 fines for littering were issued in Wellington in 2008, the latest period that data was available for. The council should sub-contract me, I’d catch at least one smoker a day on Manner’s St outside my office door.

But what do the researchers suggest? Issuing more fines won’t cut it, they argue.

“…in a society with a national smokefree goal (which is 2025 for New Zealand12), it would probably be more logical and cost effective to just make all major downtown city streets smokefree”.

I can’t say I’d be offended by that. Would you?

The abstract

Objectives: The objectives of the present work were to (a) develop a relatively simple single-observer method for data collection on cigarette butt discarding; and (b) quantify cigarette butt discarding behaviour in city streets.

Methods: A method was developed, piloted and refined (with interobserver assessment). Cigarette butt discarding was systematically observed by a single data collector while walking a continuous circuit of busy downtown streets in a capital city (Wellington, New Zealand).

Results: The final method appeared feasible in this setting and seemed efficient (at 5.5 discarding events observed per hour). A clear majority (76.7%; 95% CI 70.8 to 82.0%) of the 219 smokers observed littered their cigarette butts. Butt littering was more common for those who did not extinguish their cigarette (94.4% vs 4.5%, p1⁄40.003). Butt littering was more common in the evening versus lunchtime periods of observation (85.8% vs 68.1%, p1⁄40.002, logistic regression analysis). Overall, most smokers (73.5%) did not extinguish their butts and some placed lit butts in bins (constituting a risk of bin fires). The context for this littering was a high density of rubbish bins on this circuit with a mean of 3.5 bins being in view and with a bin every 24 m on average. Conclusions Butt littering behaviour appears to be the norm among smokers in this urban setting, even though rubbish bins were ubiquitous. One solution is stronger enforcement of littering laws. Nevertheless, in a society with a national smokefree goal (by year 2025 for New Zealand), it would probably be more logical and cost effective to move to smokefree policies for major city streets, which are used in a number of jurisdictions internationally.

Exploring Antarctica – without having to go there Peter Griffin Jul 18

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Anyone who is anyone seems to end up going to Antarctica – its a rite of passage for Kiwi journalists, b-list celebrities and scientists, though the latter tend to have a much more genuine need to venture down there on a regular basis.

If you yearn to explore Shackleton’s hut or actually stand at the South Pole, don’t fall into one of the above categories and can’t afford to do the trip as a tourist, Google can offer you the next best thing.

The search engine giant has upgraded its under-rated World Wonders site, which uses the Google Streetview concept and its Business Photos technology to let people explore heritage sites of significance. The latest batch of high-resolution 360 degree images are from important locations in Antarctica, such as the South Pole TelescopeShackleton’s hutScott’s hutCape Royds Adélie Penguin Rookery and the Ceremonial South Pole.

The concept is pretty simple. You use your mouse to zoom around and click on the image to progress to another point that has been mapped and imaged, and use your mouse to nosey around a bit more.

The quality of the photography is excellent – Google worked with the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota and the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust to get the imagery looking good.

As Google explains on its blog:

With this access, schoolchildren as far as Bangalore can count penguin colonies on Snow Hill Island, and geologists in Georgia can trace sedimentary layers in the Dry Valleys from the comfort of their desks. Feel free to leave your boots and mittens behind, and embark on a trip to Antarctica.

Open access doesn’t mean lower quality Peter Griffin Jul 17

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Hot on the heels of the UK Government’s move to re-shape the science publishing system by requiring publicly funded science research to be open-access from 2014, comes research to suggest the impact of research varies little between subscriber-only and open access journals.

The paper*, published today in BMC Medicine used citation rates and measures of “impact factor” of papers in both open access and subscription-based to see which are more widely cited and are therefore deemed to have greater impact.

The researchers, Bo-Christer Björk from Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, and David Solomon from Michigan State University, both founded open access journals in the 1990s. They compared the impact factors of 610 open access journals and over 7000 subscription journals and found:

The citation rate for subscription journals was overall 30% higher than for open access ones but this difference was largely due to a high share of older OA journals, particularly from regions like Latin America in the citation indexes. When like was compared with like, for instance, journals founded after 2000 from difference regions or disciplines, the differences disappeared.

So for the last decade of publishing, open access  journal papers are cited at about the same rate as subscription journals, suggesting their impact is similar. The research would appear to discount the notion that open access papers are somehow inferior to those published in subscription-based journals. Most scientists already knew that, but nice to see some research on it at a time when the open access movement has reached a watershed moment – at least as far as the UK is concerned.

 Open access versus subscription journals: a comparison of scientific impact Bo-Christer Björk and David Solomon


Background: In the past few years there has been an ongoing debate as to
whether the proliferation of open access (OA) publishing would damage the
peer review system and put the quality of scientific journal publishing at risk.
Our aim was to inform this debate by comparing the scientific impact of OA
journals with subscription journals, controlling for journal age, the country of
the publisher, discipline and (for OA publishers) their business model.

Methods: The 2-year impact factors (the average number of citations to the
articles in a journal) were used as a proxy for scientific impact. The Directory
of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) was used to identify OA journals as well as
their business model. Journal age and discipline were obtained from the
Ulrich’s periodicals directory. Comparisons were performed on the journal
level as well as on the article level where the results were weighted by the
number of articles published in a journal. A total of 610 OA journals were
compared with 7,609 subscription journals using Web of Science citation data
while an overlapping set of 1,327 OA journals were compared with 11,124
subscription journals using Scopus data.

Results: Overall, average citation rates, both unweighted and weighted for
the number of articles per journal, were about 30% higher for subscription
journals. However, after controlling for discipline (medicine and health versus
other), age of the journal (three time periods) and the location of the publisher
(four largest publishing countries versus other countries) the differences
largely disappeared in most subcategories except for journals that had been
launched prior to 1996. OA journals that fund publishing with article
processing charges (APCs) are on average cited more than other OA
journals. In medicine and health, OA journals founded in the last 10 years are
receiving about as many citations as subscription journals launched during the
same period.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that OA journals indexed in Web of
Science and/or Scopus are approaching the same scientific impact and
quality as subscription journals, particularly in biomedicine and for journals
funded by article processing charges

UK to open floodgates on open access science publishing Peter Griffin Jul 16


A matter of weeks after the UK G0vernment-commissioned Finch Report recommended a move to embrace open access science publishing, the Government has responded with plans to make publicly funded scientific research immediately available for anyone to read for free by 2014.

The move is a huge endorsement of the open access model, which numerous countries are moving towards on a more piecemeal  basis.

But, as the Finch Report the transition to a system where science paper authors pay fees to cover publication of their papers in peer-reviewed journals rather than journals charging subscriptions, will come at a cost that appears as though it will be funded out of the existing UK public science budget.

As Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said today:

“There is a transitional cost to go through, but it’s overall of benefit to our research community and there’s general acceptance it’s the right thing to do. We accept that some of this cost will fall on the ring-fenced science budget, which is £4.6bn.”

“The real economic impact is we are throwing open, to academics, researchers, businesses and lay people, all the high quality research that is publicly funded. I think there’s a massive net economic benefit here way beyond any £50m from the science budget.”

There will be much apprehension among scientists over where budgets will be raided to fund the new policy, but overall, the announcement has been greeted positively in the UK. The Science Media Centre in London reported the comments from report author Dame Janet Finch and from major research funder the Wellcome Trust:

Dame Janet Finch said:

“I am very encouraged that the Government has accepted the recommendations of our report. I am sure that other members of the working group will echo this. Exploiting the power of the internet to make the latest research findings accessible to everyone who has an interest in them – from business to voluntary organisations and ‘citizen scientists’ – is critically important for a vibrant economy and a healthy society.

I particularly welcome the Government’s support for ‘Gold’ open access publishing as part of a balanced package of measures; and the new arrangements announced today by Research Councils UK to provide funding for article publishing charges (APCs). Although I recognise that we are in a period of financial stringency, the Government has endorsed to huge economic potential of this move. I therefore hope that this will be taken into account in the next round of funding allocations to research funders and to universities.

A full transition to open access will take some time, and all the key stakeholders – Government, funders, universities, researchers and publishers – will need to continue to work together to ensure that we proceed in an ordered way, maximising the benefits and minimising the risks. It’s also important that the UK should work with international partners to accelerate the pace of transition not just in the UK but across the world. But the changes announced today mark an important step towards the goal of access for everyone to the work produced by the UK’s world-leading researchers.”

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said:

“The Wellcome Trust strongly supports the new Research Councils UK policy, and the leadership that RCUK continues to take in ensuring that the outputs of research funded from the public purse are made freely available. These outputs may then be accessed and used in ways that maximise their benefit to society.  We are particularly pleased that the Research Councils will provide more flexible funding arrangements to help researchers secure the funds to cover open access publication fees.

“We also welcome the requirement that, where Research Council funds have been used to pay open access fees, papers must be made available under the Creative Commons, Attribution licence (CC-BY), which allows content to be re-used for both commercial and non-commercial purposes, subject only to appropriate attribution.  This is in line with recent changes to our own open access policy, and we will be working in partnership with the Research Councils over the coming months to implement this requirement.

“We applaud the steps that HEFCE is taking towards ensuring that research outputs submitted for inclusion as part of future Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercises must be made widely available. As REF has such a significant impact on university research, this move will send a strong signal to the research community and will play a significant role in accelerating the transition towards open access.”

How does it affect New Zealand science?

The policy shift in the UK will open up access to the work of New Zealand scientists by default as New Zealanders are regularly co-authors on papers paid for by UK Research Councils funds.

But hopefully it will also lead to some introspection about our own open access policies here. Discussion of the relative merits of open access science publishing has largely passed New Zealand by, mainly because the science publishing power base lies in the UK and the US.

Still, with the US and Australia moving this way too, New Zealand will likely have to adopt best practice in its treatment of the open access question – sooner rather than later, it would seem.


When science writing is King Peter Griffin Jul 09

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If you are a blogger writer or science communicator, you should seriously consider checking out the upcoming Writing Science event being held at the Michael King Writers’ Centre in Auckland in October.

I’ll be there and the programme looks pretty impressive.

What’s the workshop about? The following quote from the workshop promotional material pretty much sums it up:

“..There is increasing concern about the conflation of water security, food security and energy security against the backdrop of global population increase to at least 9 billion by 2050, climate change and rising incidences of non-communicable disease… Science is essential to addressing these components of the ‘perfect storm’…The issue of public engagement and understanding is already a challenge and will grow.”

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor, Transition To Sustainability Conference, University of Auckland, 2010.

Sir Peter was tapping the same vein at the recent Transit of Venus forum in Gisborne where he called for better science communication to address that exact “perfect storm” he mentions above.

When it comes to science writing there are few short workshops that let busy professionals drop in to get some guidance on science writing – Dave Armstrong leads an excellent course at Victoria University that’s spread over three weekends – I’ve been a guest speaker the last couple of years and love watching Dave lead the class.

The Michael King Writer’s Centre course is more conference than workshop. It will really appeal to people working in and around science who want to take their writing to the next level, get ideas from established science writers like Rebecca Priestley, michael Corbalis and Geoff Chapple and figure out the lay of the land in terms of outlets and opportunities for science writing.

The centre is calling for applications with places limited to 24:

The workshop is limited to 24 applicants.  Writers applying to attend the workshop should have some publishing record or be specialists in their field. Participants will have published articles in journals, magazines or websites, and some will have published chapters in books or have books published or in progress. Those attending may be scientists, historians of science and medicine, natural history and technical writers, science journalists, Te Ara/Encyclopedia writers, writers covering public health and environmental issues, those currently writing in the science field and crossover published writers who have recently started writing about science.

Applications should be made to the address below by 15th July 2012 and include a writing CV.  Registration forms will be sent to those accepted by 30th July 2012  Payment is due following acceptance and may be made in two installments.

We have a new particle – and it looks Higgsy Peter Griffin Jul 04

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Scientists this evening confirmed they have discovered a particle fitting the description of the Higgs Boson, the so-called ‘god particle’ that is seen as key to expanding our knowledge of particle physics and the make-up of the universe.

Confirmation that the Higgs Boson-like particle had been discovered in experiments carried out at the Large Hadron Collider came in a press release from CERN (which houses the LHC). Scientists also outlined the technical details in a seminar at the International Conference for High Energy Physics in Melbourne.

Commenting on the findings, CERN Director General Rolf Heuer said:

“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature. The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.”

The technical presentations in Melbourne were mindblowingly complicated – but over at the Science Media Centre we gathered some commentary from scientists all over the world – here’s some of the reaction.

Professor Matt Visser, Professor of Mathematics at Victoria University of Wellington comments:

“Certainly enough [here] to claim discovery. Compatible with the standard model of particle physics; some rather vague but inconclusive hints of ‘beyond standard model’ physics.

“No sign of supersymmetry, no sign of large extra dimensions, no sign of technicolor, no sign of “strong gravity”, or any of the more “exotic” proposals theorists have come up with since the standard model was formulated.

“Not enough yet to completely rule out “exotic” physics; I soon expect to see a flurry (avalanche?) of theory and phenomenology papers picking at the details. More importantly, there is still a lot of work for the experimentalists in fully exploring the present data, and collecting more data, to extract as much information as possible. This is just the beginning…”

Professor Mark Kruse (a New Zealander), Associate Professor of Physics at Duke University, comments:

“I have just finished watching the releases by the CMS and ATLAS experiments at the ICHEP meeting in Melbourne (where about 500 physicists are watching). Pretty electrifying atmosphere here.
Both experiments report an observation (at about the 5-sigma level) of a Higgs-like Boson. My comment(s) are as follows:

“It is now clear that something new has been seen at the LHC that will open up a whole new era of exploration, making this a very exciting time in particle physics. It remains to be seen if what has been discovered is indeed the Higgs Boson of the Standard Model(SM) of particle physics. But either way, we are on the verge of understanding one of the biggest mysteries of the Universe, that of how the masses of fundamental particles are generated. It will take more time to determine if this is the SM Higgs boson, or one of perhaps many different types of Higgs bosons in a more exotic theory, or,
something else entirely.

“Once resolved, we will be one step further in our quest for an understanding of what happened in the first trillionth of a second of the Universe that made it what it is today. However, I will note that the discovery of the Higgs boson, if indeed we have found it, is by no means the end of the story, in fact
in some sense it is only the beginning.”

Professor Richard Easther, Head of Department, Department of Physics, University of Auckland comments: 

“The news from CERN marks a huge step forward for particle physics. We are definitely seeing a new class of particle for the first time in 30 years, and this new particle looks like the long-sought Higgs boson. If this identification holds up we will understand why subatomic particles have mass, a breakthrough that would rank with Rurherford’s discovery of the atomic nucleus.

“The LHC was built by a global collaboration, including New Zealand scientists. University of Auckland physicist Dr David Krofcheck is a member of the CMS collaboration at CERN, one of the two big detectors that contributed to today’s announcement.

“The University of Auckland is hosting an international workshop next week (July 13-15) which will discuss the implications of the discoveries at the LHC for astrophysics and cosmology. The meeting will bring together New Zealand’s fundamental physics community and a number of the world’s leading experts in particle physics. Today’s announcements from Geneva are bound to be the biggest topic of conversation at our workshop, and at many conferences to come.”

Professor Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh has welcomed results from CERN today that give the strongest evidence yet of the existence of the Higgs boson, a theoretical physical particle that was first postulated by Prof Higgs in the 1960s:

“Scientists at CERN are to be congratulated on today’s results, which are a great achievement for the Large Hadron Collider and other experiments leading up to this.

“I am astounded at the amazing speed with which these results have emerged.  They are a testament to the expertise of the researchers and the elaborate technologies in place.

“I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge.”

Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, comments:

“We are delighted at this significant development in the search for the Higgs boson, and congratulate Professor Peter Higgs on this.

“This particle is integral to our understanding of the physical world and evidence of its existence is a testament to Professor Higgs and to all the scientists who are working to uncover it.

“Professor Higgs has inspired many colleagues and students over the years, some of whom have also gone on to become involved in the Large Hadron Collider experiments. His legacy will continue to inspire future generation of physicists, at Edinburgh and beyond.”

Prof Stefan Söldner-Rembold, Professor of Particle Physics at the University of Manchester, comments:          

“Today we have witnessed a discovery which gives unique insight into our understanding of the universe and the origin of the masses of fundamental particles. There is no doubt that the Higgs particle exists and we now have to understand its properties and whether it behaves exactly as predicted by theory.

“This discovery is the first milestone of the LHC physics programme and opens the door to many more exciting discoveries by the LHC experiments in the next decade.

“Particle physicists at the University of Manchester’s play a leading role on the ATLAS experiment and have built part of the ATLAS detector. ”

Professor Tejinder Virdee FRS, Imperial College London, comments:

“Today is a historic day.  A new heavy particle, the first of its kind, has been observed in CMS.  It took 20 years to build the CMS detector, arguably the most complex scientific instrument ever built.  This result is a tribute to the talent and dedication of thousands of scientists and engineers from about 40 countries that built and now operate CMS.  Within the experimental precision achieved so far the results appear consistent with expectations for a standard model Higgs boson.

“The Higgs boson is the last and key missing element of the highly successful standard model, one of the great achievements of 20th century science.  More data are required to reveal whether it has all the properties of the standard model Higgs boson or whether some do not match, implying new physics beyond the standard model.  I believe this observation opens the door to a new vista of physics that will take many more years to explore.”

Professor Dave Charlton, Deputy Spokesperson for the ATLAS project from the University of Birmingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy, comments:

“Many people have been working night and day to analyse the fresh data from the LHC which has been pouring in this year, which has allowed us to reveal these exciting preliminary results today.  The tantalising hints we saw in December are repeated and strengthened in the new ATLAS data, so we’re now quite confident that we’re seeing a new particle.  Finding out if it’s got all the properties of the Standard Model’s Higgs boson will need a lot more data and painstaking work.  We’re now opening a new chapter of fundamental physics, as the LHC was designed to do.”

Prof Themis Bowcock, Head of Particle Physics at the University of Liverpool, comments:

“This is cast-iron proof that a new particle has been discovered. It looks like the Higgs.

“For physicists the dice are definitely now loaded in favour of a discovery.  Based on the CERN results alone there appears to be less than one chance in a million that this is fake, which is roughly the same probability as flipping a coin heads-up 21 times in a row.  Very few physicists would privately argue that this is not a Higgs particle

“Half a century after it was first proposed, and after a monumental effort by generations of physicists around the world, the discovery of the Higgs represents a major breakthrough in our fundamental understanding of nature. For physicists, this is the equivalent of Columbus discovering America.

“Each of the two experiments (ATLAS and CMS) searching for the Higgs have presented data which, independently, surpass the ‘gold-standard’ for discovery which they themselves have set. Although the ATLAS and CMS teams are keen to point out the preliminary nature of this data, newly released data from the Tevatron at Fermilab in the US seem to support the Higgs hypothesis.

“Our perception of the Higgs is that it is like no other fundamental object in nature. Our modern understanding of physics – known as the Standard Model – relies on the existence of the Higgs boson, which interacts with other particles making some very heavy whilst leaving others light. This shapes the Universe we know today.

“For the last 40 years it has allowed us to understand phenomena such as light, the way the sun burns, and how atoms and nuclei are held together. Without the Higgs there would be no stars and ultimately no life.

“Physicists have laboured for decades to reach this goal but a huge task still awaits them. Mapping out the properties of this new particle is the next step, it opens a new era in Particle Physics and will take years more painstaking work. But the stakes could not be higher. The Higgs offers humanity, for the first time, a unique glimpse into why nature is the way it is.”

Professor Bowcock is one of a team of scientists at the University of Liverpool working at the Large Hadron Collider

Q&A with scientists:

Q. I understand that it is the Higgs field that confers mass but what is the relationship of the Higgs boson to the field?  And if it is the field that confers mass, what does the Higgs boson do?

SS: ”In quantum theory all fields have “quanta” associated with them. As an example, the photon is the quantum of the electromagnetic field.  In analogy, the Higgs boson is the particle related to the Higgs field.”

JG: ”The Higgs field permeates throughout the whole universe.  A Higgs boson can be thought of as a little ripple of the Higgs field.  It is the smallest ripple allowed by quantum mechanics.”

Q. I understand that the field is around us all the time.  Are Higgs bosons there too?  I.e. are they being made in nature all the time or were they only made in the fraction of the second after the Big Bang, hence the need to recreate these conditions?

SS: ”Higgs particles are very heavy and it therefore requires a lot of energy to produce them. This is the reason we need high-energy accelerators like the LHC.”

JG: ”It takes a lot of energy to create real Higgs bosons.  Also they are very short lived and decay rapidly into other particles.  It is this process that is being observed at LHC.”

Q. if the field is there all the time, why not just look for it? Or is it even harder to detect?

SS: ”The Higgs field interacts with the fundamental particles that make up the world around us and it gives them their mass.  When measuring particle masses we see the Higgs field at work. However, to get a positive proof that this theory is really correct we need to find the Higgs particle which comes with the field. Peter Higgs actually postulated the existence of the Higgs particle as an afterthought to his original paper as a possible experimental signature of his theory.”

JG: ”The Higgs field provides a mechanism to generate mass in various elementary particles. In particular, the fact that the W-bosons and the Z-bosons have mass is good indirect evidence for the Higgs field. Detecting the Higgs boson will provide a direct test for the existence of the Higgs field itself.”

SS = Stefan Söldner-Rembold at the University of Manchester

JG = Prof Jerome Gauntlett, Head of Theoretical Physics at the Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London

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