Finding the Higgs Boson and what it means for the universe
So yes, the Higgs Boson has all but been confirmed on this momentous day for physics. This historic announcement has come after months of smashing protons in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at speeds close to that of light and searching the debris for traces of particles that sprang into existence for just a fraction of a second before disintegrating.
Professor John Womersley, Chief Executive of UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council, told reporters at a briefing in London, “I can confirm that a particle has been discovered that is consistent with the Higgs Boson theory.” Joe Incandela, spokesman for one of the two teams hunting for the Higgs particle told an audience at CERN near Geneva: “This is a preliminary result, but we think it’s very strong and very solid.”
“Discovery is the important word. That is confirmed. It’s a momentous day for science.”
While it’s almost certain that the new particle is indeed what reporters have dubbed The God Particle, its confirmation would patch the gaping hole in the Standard Model, the theory that describes all the particles, forces and interactions that make up the universe. If the particle was shown not to exist, it would have meant tearing up the Standard Model and going back to the drawing board.
So what’s the big deal with the Higgs Boson and the Standard Model? Well, the Higgs boson can account for all of the unexplained mass in the universe.
Here’s the long answer.
In particle physics, the Standard Model, thought up in the 70’s, explains that the universe is completely comprised of matter (fermions) and force (bosons). So far it has successfully explained almost all experimental physics.
From our high-school physics class, we remember that atoms are comprised of smaller components like electrons, protons and neutrons. When electrons jump between atoms, new substances are formed, but the nucleus of an atom generally remains unchanged unless it undergoes a nuclear reaction. Now, the neutron and proton nucleus, also known as the hadron, is made up of quarks. These come paired in six different varieties; up and down, charm and strange, top and bottom. (Don’t ask me, I didn’t come up with these names). Quarks can also be classified as first, second, or third generation.
Particle physics studies all these individual elements that comprise our universe. According to the Standard Model, all matter consists of two different types of particles, quarks and leptons (i.e. electrons and neutrinos), held together by bosons. Bosons describe the force between particles.
The Higgs Boson, originally suggested in the 1960′s by British physicist Peter Higgs postulates that a particle gains mass by passing through the Higgs field, a combination of an electromagnetic field and a solid. Before the Higgs portion of the Standard Model, it was assumed that W and Z bosons interacted with other elementary particles, however, the mass of those bosons was always so large that it unbalanced and broke the “Standard Model”.
Thus, it was postulated that there had to be at least one other particle added to the mass equation, the Higgs Boson. Ever since the search has been on to find the elusive Higgs, leading to the construction of the LHC, the world’s largest particle accelerator built to test particle physics theories.
One of the main objectives of the LHC is to find the Higgs Boson. So how might the Higgs Boson have been found? The Higgs boson is known to be unstable, decaying into certain particles based on its expected weight. The scientists designed their particle collision experiments in a way that will emit particles of a particular mass. If the particles within an expected range are more numerous then the collision alone can explain, then the rest of the observed particles are proof of the Higgs Boson.
Here’s Huffington Post’s Cara Santa Maria explaining it all, without the jargon.
Here’s hoping that this discovery will open the gateway to the answers of the universe’s mysteries. Like what the Universe really is, where it came from, or how it came into being, whether it is the only one and what is the fundamental nature of its main components. Time is a mystery, the fate of the cosmos remains uncertain and the Universe yearns to be unlocked.