Judging by enthusiasm alone, the best movie of 2011 was the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises (12.5 million views in 24 hours, not too shabby). So it’s either reassuring or more troubling still to know that the biggest event in science, too, was a preview. In a scientific year characterized by glowing cats and the Nobel-winning discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe, it was a glimpse of that notorious fundamental particle, the Higgs boson, which had fanboys talking.
Finding evidence for the Higgs field, which theoretically condensed out of the Big Bang and gives mass to everything in the universe, was a big part of the reason Europe buried a big atomic donut, the Large Hadron Collider, under the French-Swiss border — science’s Bat Cave. Various experiments in that high-energy particle accelerator are designed to investigate the universe’s more esoteric quirks (and quarks): extra universes, antimatter, supersymmetry. By recreating the conditions of the universe immediately after the Big Bang, scientists hope to discover how this whole thing is nailed together.
The Higgs boson, or “God particle” as it’s known around the way, is important because it would prove the validity of the Standard Model Theory of particle physics that purports to explain how most of the universe fits together. If there’s no Higgs, it means that another convoluted theory must take its place. Glimpses of where the Higgs might be appeared this year, but it won’t be until 2012 that further experimentation proves more conclusively whether the Higgs exists, and whether it is really millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne.