On July 4th, 2012, CERN announced that, using the Large Hadron Collider they found a boson particle that so far is consistent with the Higgs boson. It will take ages of further testing to figure out whether this boson is actually a Higgs boson, but this is a very promising first step, as it is the first boson ever observed. The Higgs boson, and the boson field associated with it, can help to explain why matter is affected by gravity. This would be a huge step in our understanding of the universe, and is probably the last step in completing our understanding of the standard model of particle physics. To find out what a Higgs boson is, check out this excellent video by PhD Comics.
For a briefer overview on the Higgs boson, and the hunt for it, this graphic by Matthew Bambach will show you the essentials.
It has taken lots of funding and a long time to find this boson. This visualization by The Economist shows how long it has taken to get this far as compared with other elementary particles.
To find this boson, there have been huge quantities of data generated. We often talk about living in an age of “big data”, and having more data than we know what to do with, but the folks over at the LHC Computing Grid really know what big data is. They generate roughly 15 petabytes of data a year! That data gets categorized, aggregated, sorted, and turns into all kinds of visualizations. One of those visualizations is a simple line chart showing collision events and the amount of energy they occurred at. The blip on this line is the range where the boson occurred.
Possibly the most beautiful visualization out of all of these though is of the actual collisions themselves. These tiny tiny events have huge quantities of energy associated with them, and they fling sub-atomic particles out from the center point of the collision. Visualizations of the paths of these particles are very beautiful.
A 3D view of the collisions is the most spectacular, though. No matter how you visualize the data coming out of the LHC at CERN, the “gravity” of their discovery will be huge. Drew Skau is Visualization Architect at Visual.ly, and a heavy PhD Computer Science Visualization student at UNCC, with an undergraduate degree in Architecture.