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An extraordinary year 10/02/2013 18:56 #51

An extraordinary year with the Higgs boson

Dear girls and boys,

the year that just passed was indeed extraordinary for all of us. I confess you that still, sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, I must do an exercise of rationality: I wonder if it has really happened, if indeed it is true that we found the Higgs boson. Our generation of physicists is really a lucky one. Imagine having a dream and chasing it for twenty years, imagine working like crazy to an enterprise that, at first, all regarded as sheer madness. Then, when everyone was already assuming that the theory was wrong and that one should have started thinking about different mechanisms to give mass to elementary particles, you suddenly discover that something is happening in the data.

I find it difficult to convey in a few words the emotions experienced in the seven months that have changed forever our physics. From December 2011, when we began to discern in the data the first signs of the presence of the Higgs boson, to July 2012 when the experimental evidence had become so robust that we could announce the discovery to the world.

I like to remember the role played in the discovery by hundreds of young students and researchers who were thrown into the fray with the enthusiasm and the passion that only young people are able to give. I will never forget the light shining in their eyes during the meetings, when discussing critically the results. Those eyes were feverish for passion, almost excitement, when the signal around 125GeV seemed to get stronger and those eyes were worried, hiding scare and criticism, whenever possible weaknesses were identified in the analysis or we were realizing that systematic errors were still not well understood.

Doing physics is a privilege because it allows the cultivation of our passion for knowledge while sharing it with some of the brightest minds in the world. And when this leads to an advancement of knowledge, to a new discovery (but it happens rarely) or simply to a new measurement well done (which is more frequent), the satisfaction that one gets justifies years of work, of daily routine, of periods in which nothing seems to happen, of hard work which requires professional competence and that is certainly demanding for everybody, always.

It’s true that today, for a young woman or man who wishes to take up this profession, there are many problems. There are too many temporary jobs and sometimes the most deserving people are not those who are rewarded. Too many bright young people are forced to leave Italy because they are not offered reliable perspectives of employment.

And yet, still, some of our universities are among the best in the world. Our research system for particle physics is excellent. The tradition that our country has in particle physics has no equal in the countries of our size. I therefore invite you to have courage and faith in yourself and to be guided by passion. I know that if you’ll do it, you’ll not regret it, ever.

Best wishes
Guido Tonelli
Professore Ordinario di Fisica Sperimentale Università di Pisa
Responsabile Esperimento CMS al CERN nel 2010-2011
Co-assegnatario del Fundamental Physics Prize 2013 per la
scoperta del Bosone di Higgs

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