The discovery of the Higgs Boson is a matter of importance (pun intended). Most probably have never heard of the name or even the more commonly known, yet less popular moniker, the ‘God Particle’. However it wouldn’t be your fault as these things are usually overlooked and are so often overshadowed in the media. Why should you care? You should care because the understanding to the creation of the universe just got that much closer – the Higgs Boson is responsible for all mass in the universe. Now let that sink in.
Although this discovery was first touched upon in July 2012 and then made official in March of 2013, I did not have a blog then to be able to bring this to you. 😉 If there was ever a post to add to my ‘Neglected News’ category this would be it. This greatly defines the kind of content I hope to add to it on a continuing basis. With that aside, it’s never too late to spread the knowledge. Let’s get to it!
The Standard Model
The particle is named after Peter Higgs, one of only a handful of physicists who proposed the idea of its existence back in 1964. They understood how it would have to behave and what properties it had to possess however what they were looking for was nowhere to be found. They knew it would be the missing link but it was like chasing a ghost, until now. To elevate the significance of this find further more, after it’s confirmation of it’s existence in 2013 Higgs and another of the original researchers François Englert, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics later in the year.
To fully grasp its importance is to have a broad understanding of particle physics and the standard model, which is something I do not possess. I wanted to better familiarize myself with it so I could better pass on the information here which led me to spend an entire night trying to wrap my brain around something that’s too complicated to fully understand just in mere hours. But that’s the ambition in me and it’s all in good fun. After all, part of the beauty of blogging and sharing your passions with others is the opportunity to learn even more about the subject one is trying to convey to others. Therefor I’m going to attempt to break it down and make it as condensed as I can. [site of source: European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN]
“Everything in the universe [or matter] is found to be made from a few basic building blocks called fundamental particles, governed by four fundamental forces. Our best understanding of how these particles and three of the forces are related to each other is encapsulated in the Standard Model of particle physics.
All matter around us is made of elementary particles. These particles [called fermions] occur in two basic types called quarks and leptons. Each group consists of six particles, which are related in pairs, or “generations” [for a total of 12 different types which are also called ‘flavors’]. [In terms of mass] the lightest and most stable particles make up the first generation, whereas the heavier and less stable particles belong to the second and third generations. All stable matter in the universe is made from particles that belong to the first generation; any heavier particles quickly decay to the next most stable level.”
There are four fundamental forces in the universe: the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force. The weak, electromagnetic and strong forces are carried by particles called ‘bosons’, which then carry the forces back and forth between fermions. They are what holds the matter together and are why the fundamental forces are possible. Mass is critical to the structure of matter in relation to bosons, especially in gravity which allows particles with mass to attract one another. The ‘weak force’ can change the type (or flavor) of a fermion as well as cause beta decay where protons and neutrons change into one another. The ‘strong force’ is responsible for holding quarks together that make composite particles such as protons and neutrons (remember those?) which help make the nucleus of every atom. The ‘electromagnetic force’ is responsible for all electric and magnetic fields, chemical reactions and atomic structure. The study of this specific area is called quantum electrodynamics, which “was the first successful quantum field theory, incorporating such ideas as particle creation and annihilation into a self-consistent framework. The development of the theory was the basis of the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics, awarded to Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Sin-itero Tomonaga.” The ‘gravitational force’ however, is still a mystery and not yet explained by the standard model.
“Particles of matter transfer discrete amounts of energy by exchanging bosons with each other. Each fundamental force has its own corresponding boson – the strong force is carried by the “gluon”, the electromagnetic force is carried by the “photon”, and the “W and Z bosons” are responsible for the weak force. Although not yet found, the “graviton” should be the corresponding force-carrying particle of gravity.”
Whatever affects gravity is still unknown as proving how it fits in the standard model effectively has been a challenge. Perhaps the graviton will be the next big discovery to truly link everything together and make more sense of everything.
So What is the Higgs Boson?
The Higgs boson is what gives the fermions’ quarks and leptons mass as well as the other bosons (excluding the photon and gluon which are massless). In other words, it’s the very thing that gives mass to everything in the universe. Without it, there would be no physical matter in the universe, only energy. Since the Higgs is a boson, that means it must be carrying a certain force of it’s own. This has been called the ‘Higgs field’ which was also named after and put forth by Peter Higgs. Howstuffworks.com explains this relation best:
“Can’t matter just inherently have mass without the Higgs boson confusing things? Not according to the standard model. But physicists have found a solution. What if all particles have no inherent mass, but instead gain mass by passing through a field? This field, known as a Higgs field, could affect different particles in different ways. Photons could slide through unaffected, while W and Z bosons would get bogged down with mass. In fact, assuming the Higgs boson exists, everything that has mass gets it by interacting with the all-powerful Higgs field, which occupies the entire universe. Like the other fields covered by the standard model, the Higgs one would need a carrier particle to affect other particles, and that particle is known as the Higgs boson.”
Only by using the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider built by CERN (which was finished in 2008) were they able to finally see it. Since the Higgs boson has such a heavy mass, it decays extremely rapidly making it nearly impossible to discover, let alone study otherwise. Since the collider recreates the conditions of the moments right after the big bang, it’s obvious why until now.
The Issue With the Name, ‘God Particle’
It’s not difficult to guess the controversy with the use of the term ‘God Particle’. It’s offensive to those who believe in god because naming it that after such a significant find for science that takes us one step closer to explaining the creation of the universe comes off as a mockery. It sounds as if the scientists are putting down creationists and trying to rub it in their faces where in the fact the opposite is true as explained by Chris Lisee of huffingtonpost.com:
“In 1993 when American physicist Leon Lederman was writing a book on the Higgs boson, he dubbed it “the goddamn particle.” An editor suggested “the God particle” instead.
One thing is clear: The July 4 discovery that marked a new chapter in scientific knowledge also reignited debate over the universe’s origins — and the validity of religious faith as scientific knowledge expands.”
Because nothing sells papers, books or magazines like controversy. The rest of his article is definitely worth a read. Anytime something like this is discovered fuel is added to the ever burning fire between the two sides. Two sides that in the end could be to the very same coin, just different interpretations. It’s becoming more and more likely that what everyone believes is right and no one is wrong – it’s just a matter of obtaining the right vocabulary like our ancestors have had trouble with since the dawn of intelligent humans. Eventually, we’ll get there.