A celebration of Citizen Science on the Higgs boson's birthday

4 July 2016

Volunteers around the world are helping Oxford scientists searching for relatives of the Higgs boson … using just their eyes!

Today, 4th July 2016, the Higgs boson celebrates its fourth birthday. Remarkably, over the last two of those years, more than twenty thousand amateur scientists from 179 countries have been collaborating to look for its siblings. By scouring images of LHC collisions, they’ve been looking for the tell-tale signs of new relatives of the Higgs bosons - particles predicted in some theories, but as yet unobserved.

Historically, CERN has had a long heritage in seeing the invisible. Nowadays, when it comes to looking for particles produced at the LHC much of the legwork is done by a global network of powerful computers. However, in a twist of fate, it seems that even the cleverest computer algorithm can’t always compete with the collective intelligence of thousands of human brains.

The Oxford HiggsHunters team celebrate the Higgs bosons's fourth birthdayThe lead physicist on the project, Professor Alan Barr says, “There are tasks – even in this high-tech world – where the human eye and the human brain simply win out.”

The citizen science volunteers are searching through thousands of images from the ATLAS experiment on the HiggsHunters.org website. They are looking for “Baby Higgs bosons” which would leave a characteristic trace in the ATLAS detector.

This is the first time that images from the Large Hadron Collider have been examined on such a scale - 60,000 of the most interesting events were selected from collisions recorded throughout 2012, the year of the Higgs boson discovery. About 20,000 of those collisions have been scanned so far, revealing interesting features.

Oxford researcher Dr Will Kalderon who has been working on the project says “We’ve been astounded both by the number of responses and ability of people to do this so well, I’m really excited to see what we might find”.

Following on from the work of summer students Ryan Buckingham and Thomas Hornigold, it will soon be time to see if any Baby Higgses have been spotted. But before that happens we need your help – there are still interesting images which nobody has looked at and which might hide evidence of new particles. There’s still time to contribute so if you fancy having a go, connect to HiggsHunters.org and see what you can discover!

The HiggsHunters.org project is a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and NYU in the United States. It makes use of the Zooniverse citizen science platform, which hosts over 40 projects from searches for new astrophysical objects in telescope surveys to following the habits of wildlife in the Serengeti.

The scientists gratefully acknowledge the generous financial support of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, the University of Oxford, and Merton College, Oxford.