At 8am UTC yesterday, July 4th, scientists at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva held a conference to deliver their latest news: evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson, the last piece of the particle physics puzzle. Essentially, the Higgs boson—nicknamed the “God particle” by popular culture—gives matter mass, and is a concept that is central to understanding what we (and the rest of the Universe) are made of. The news is traveling quickly–very much due to the “super-spreading” powers of the social web. @CERN themselves released a tweet early on in the conference (7:53 a.m. UTC) summarizing the announcement:
By 12:00 p.m. UTC, 355,524 tweets contained hashtags related to the Higgs boson. As seen in the exposure graphs below, these tweets are estimated to have reached over 336 million users only four hours after the conference:
The take home message from this analysis should be clear: one of the most significant scientific discoveries of our time was released and quickly spread via tweet. It appears that even previously elusive and heavily academic realms such as particle physics can become a part of everyday conversation and collective learning on the social web.