By: Mike Padgen
The discovery of the Higgs boson (a.k.a. the God particle) made headlines throughout the world. Major news outlets reached out to experts to help explain the importance of this discovery. The Cool Ship has turned to… a guy in an unrelated field.
What is this Higgs boson thing and why should we care about it? This is what you work on, right?
Actually, no, my work is totally different. I -
But you do science-y stuff with small things, right?
Well, when you put it that way-
Good enough. What is a boson and what is so Higgsy about this one?
Bosons are one class of fundamental particle- the other class being fermions. In the Standard Model (a.k.a. the Theory of Almost Everything), bosons are force carriers. For example, the electromagnetic force is carried by photons-
Hey, you know, you ask me to do this, and now you’re just being rude!
Huh, what? Oh, where were we?
I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but you should at least try to pay attention.
Um, you do realize that you’re interviewing yourself, right? This is really some Freudian ego exercise.
Touché, me, touché,
Ok, to get back on track, the Higgs boson was predicted in the 1960s by Peter Higgs (Well, he gets all the credit). One unanswered question at the time was, “Why does matter have mass?” Higgs proposed that all of space is permeated by a field, and it is the interaction with this field that gives mass to the fundamental particles that make up matter. This field is now known as the Higgs field, and the associated boson is the Higgs boson (A much better explanation of how this works can be found here).
What they found at CERN is evidence of a Higgs-like particle, which happens to have a lot of the same properties as what was proposed for the Higgs boson. So, once they investigate those other properties and confirm that this is, in fact, the Higgs boson, it will strengthen the Standard Model and further our understanding of the universe. If the Higgs boson had not been eventually found, even as experimenters cranked up the energies of these subatomic collisions, it would have dealt a huge blow to the Standard Model and modern physics.
So why was it called the God particle?
It was called the God particle in a book by Leon Lederman because of how crucial it was to our understanding of matter. It really should have been called the goddamn particle because it eluded detection for so long. It’s been said (By people funnier than me) that the God particle moniker is now outdated, since, you know, we have evidence for its existence.
Ouch. You sure you want to crack jokes like that, buddy? So what’s the big deal about all of this?
Well, understanding the fundamental interactions that drive everything in the universe is pretty cool (Understatement). There’s no paradigm shift here, but this is a long awaited confirmation of one of our models of the universe. The Standard Model is certainly not complete, and there are a lot more questions that demand answers.
All in all, this discovery just goes to show you what tens of thousands of people, spending billions of dollars, can accomplish.
Well, thank you for your time.
No, thank me.
Mike Padgen is a PhD student studying nanoscale engineering. He’s also engaged to Colleen Kiphart. Both of those things equally qualify him to write this article.