CMS_Higgs-eventEven though the field of particle physics lies outside the knowledge bank of most people today, it is likely that the term “Higgs Boson particle” would nevertheless strike a chord in some crevice of most minds. Indeed, the discovery of the monumental particle in 2012 represented a thundering breakthrough in the field of particle physics whose aftershocks still ripple through physics laboratories today. Yet, for many, the fact that the Higgs boson poses great implications for science is the limit of their knowledge of the particle. Undeterred by the erudition of particle physics, many of these individuals desire to learn more. For them, this article attempts to provide a minimally convoluted overview of the Higgs boson. Admittedly, we could all benefit from some lofty particle physics jargon to impress family and friends.

Before the discovery of the Higgs boson, the standard model of physics proposed that the universe is comprised of 12 matter particles — six quarks and six leptons — and four forces — gravity, electromagnetism, strong force and weak force1. Each of the four forces has its unique carrier particle — called a boson — that acts upon matter. Magnetic fields, for instance, have photons as carrier particles/bosons1. The Higgs boson performs a similar function, except it carries and confers mass itself. Physicists speculate that the phenomenon of mass is conferred to particles when they pass and interact with a field — the Higgs field — which pervades the universe1. milk1Summarily, the Higgs field gives rise to the material universe as we know it; the discovery of the Higgs boson — the carrier particle produced by the excitation of the Higgs field — is accordingly monumental because it proves that the Higgs field in fact exists.

A physics analogy further illustrates the Higgs boson: imagine a system comprised of a cherry in a milkshake. Let’s say the milkshake (the Higgs field) gives the cherry mass in this system. The splash of interaction when the cherry is dropped in the milkshake represents the Higgs boson2.

While an experimental search for the Higgs boson began in the 1990s at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, it was not until July 4th, 2012, with the aid of the Large Hadron Collider, that physicists were able to collide two protons to produce a particle later confirmed to be the Higgs boson2. More technically, when the two protons collided, two gluons (carrier particles for strong force between the quarks) fused to form a top quark loop, which couples strongly to the Higgs field to produce the Higgs boson2. Numerous experiments based on decay patterns were conducted on the particle for verification, and after some contention over names (at one point the “Englert-Brout-Higgs-Guralnik-Hagen-Kibble particle” was proposed and is still used among obscure and somewhat obnoxious inner circles of particle physicists), physicists at CERN verified the discovery of the Higgs boson in March of 20132. The subsequent wave of particle physicists’ celebrations worldwide, certainly involving sugar-highs from cherry milkshake binge-chugging, must have been proportionally spectacular.

LHC

Large Hadron Collider

Widespread jubilation in the particle physics community aside, controversies still remain. For instance, the Higgs particle decays into more photons than predicted by the standard model. Furthermore, when its light mass is plugged into the standard model equation, the universe is predicted to be very unstable2. Others meanwhile suspect that more Higgs bosons could exist. One popular proposal to extend the standard model is called theory of supersymmetry or SUSY, which predicts a minimum of five Higgs particles2. In efforts to reconcile these discrepancies, particle physics laboratories have attempted to construct their own smaller particle colliders in a minor wave of technological revolutions in research. Some have achieved success with plasma colliders, which have been shown to achieve high energy collisions in much smaller space (500 meters compared to CERN’s 27 kilometer LHC)2. Confronted with potentially irreconcilable discrepancies between actual Higgs boson behavior and predictions of the standard model, many physicists are in fact excited rather than daunted. If the standard model can be proven wrong, physicists would be propelled into unknown fields in which entirely new models could change one’s fundamental understanding of the universe.

References

[1] Atteberry, Jonathan. “Higgs Boson: Final Piece of the Puzzle.” HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. http://science.howstuffworks.com/higgs-boson1.htm

[2] The Basics of a Boson. Dir. Dave Barney and Steven Goldfarb. CERN. N.p., 16 May 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2014. http://home.web.cern.ch/about/updates/2013/05/basics-higgs-boson

[3] Biever, Celese. “Happy Birthday Boson! Six Outstanding Higgs Mysteries.” NewScientist. N.p., July 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23810#.VKt4JCvF-MN&gt

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  • Mick Malkemus

    The main implication of the Higgs boson is that by moving the Higgs field aside, we can make a spacecraft approach the speed of light. The beginning of warp fields?