A (KIND OF) Simple Explanation of the Higgs Boson Extravaganza

Posted by Blademaster2106
Blademaster2106
Much like Jon Snow, I know nothing. And that's exactly what inspired me to blog
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on Thursday, 05 July 2012
in General Blogs

So unless you live under a rock, or worse- somewhere with no wifi, you probably heard a lot about the Higgs Boson particle, CERN and something called a Large Hadron Collider over the past few days. Now of course we’re all very impressed with those clever physicists and their mind boggling discovery, but there’s just one tiiiiiny problem… What in the name of Stephen Hawking is a Higgs boson particle, and why would one want to smash hadrons into one another? I decided to do some digging (lest I embarrass myself) and this is what I unearthed.

CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research and they run the world’s largest particle physics lab near Geneva (the lab is also known as CERN).  Particle physics is the branch of physics that deals with the properties, relationships, and interactions of subatomic particles. For the past few years most of their efforts have been directed at experiments involving the aforementioned Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The LHC itself is to be found in a massive 27 km long circular tunnel 100 m beneath the ground. As a particle accelerator, what it does is fire beams of protons and ions through a ring of superconducting magnets at something very near the speed of light, with the aim of forcing them to collide with one another. 6 different sites along the tunnel then gather the results of this collision for 6 different experiments, among others proof of the existence of the Higgs boson particle.

 

 The Large Hadron Collider

The Standard Model is something put forth by scientist to try and explain the fundamental particles that our universe is made up out of, the Legos of the universe, if you will. Over the years many experiments have been done, resulting in proof of 11 of the particles predicted by the standard model, the Higgs boson being the only predicted particle that still eludes scientists. This means that finding the Higgs, also known as the God-particle, would validate the model, and not finding it, or finding something else all together, would drastically change our current understanding of the universe.

One billionth of a second after the Big Bang, something known as the Higgs field is believed to have activated. The Higgs field is an invisible, and as yet theoretical field of energy that is present all over the entire cosmos. Some particles are affected by this field, which “drags” them, giving them mass, while other particles, like photons, are not affected at all, and therefore have no mass! I found this amazing example in an Canadian newspaper (which I’m going to copy, as there’s no way I could say it better): Picture Lady Gaga (the particle) walking down the street with a bucket load of photographers (the Higgs field) clustered around her. However, Average Joe (a photon), walking on the same street, gets zero attention from the paparazzi.

To get back on track, RIGHT after the Big Bang, random particles were just pottering about the universe at the speed of light, not really doing anything, but within a fraction of a second they started interacting with the Higgs field and gained mass, thus creating the universe by gaining more and more mass and slowing down as they accumulated mass.

The Higgs boson itself is an indication of the Higgs field, appearing and disappearing in a fraction of a second, so quickly in fact that it’s impossible to detect. (Think of it as the flash of the paparazzi’s cameras.) The only way scientists are therefore able to prove the particle’s existence is by studying and analyzing the effects of its decay; enter our old friend, the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC recreates the Big Bang conditions by sending protons crashing into one another, creating millions of billions of particle collisions every second (just like in the old days). The energy created by proton-proton collisions excites the Higgs field, which resonates at a precise energy, the measurement of which is identical to the mass of the Higgs boson.  It’s then, after the Higgs boson winked into and out of existence, that the LHC measures the other particles that the boson deteriorated into.

 

 Colourful arrows pointing at the Higgs boson particle

On 4 July 2012, CERN announced that they had found a particle that behaves in the exact way the Standard Model predicts the Higgs boson ought to behave. They are fairly certain that what they have found is the elusive God-particle, named so because of the nobel laureate Leon Lederman describing it as the thing that he believes “orchestrates the cosmic symphony”, but are classifying the results as preliminary until even further study can provide more reliable data.

So here’s a toast to those brilliant-minded, Hooloovoo-ian physicists at CERN, shedding light on the mysteries of the universe - one collision at a time.

[DISCLAIMER - I do not even possess the faintest understanding of math, not to even mention particle or theoretical physics. I am, however, fairly sure that everything I wrote here is accurate, as I did a reasonable amount of research. But if you spot some discrepancies, please feel free to correct me!]

Much like Jon Snow, I know nothing. And that's exactly what inspired me to blog here - the opportunity to educate myself, and maybe even one or two other people along the way.

Comments

Nsain
Nsain
Can't i just drop it like its lukewarm? It's been a long day and I 'm tired
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Nsain Friday, 06 July 2012

Partycles!

Hey BM, great article. Been following the LHC for awhile now and glad things are starting to pay off for their research. Next up, what happened to all that missing antimatter during the Big Bang!

riiaan
riiaan
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riiaan Friday, 06 July 2012

Thanks

I have heard a lot about the Higgs Boson particle, but till now, did not know much about it.

Thanks for the great write up :)

Muscadecipio
Muscadecipio
I am a 40-something computer geek who years ago decided that technology would ei
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Muscadecipio Friday, 06 July 2012

Even simpler explanation

I have been facinated by the LHC from before it was built. The search for elemental particles seems so pointless and so interesting at the same time. Humans have enquiring minds and what more noble enquiry than into the stuff the universe is constructed of.

I sya "pointless" becasue no matter what they discover, it is of little interest to anyone except Theoretical Physicists and Mathematicians. It is unlikely than we will see time-travel machines or black-hole guns being developed anytime soon from these studies. The "interesting" statement relates to the technologies that are developing to be able to study these elemental particles. Like NASA and the race for space dominanace from in the 60's and 70's, the ancillary technologies developed to solve problems relating to how to detect, capture, manipulated and measure particles spill over into everyday life. The LHC itself is an incredible piece of electrical and mechanical engineering.

Since it's inception in 1954, CERN has generated 160 technologies. since June this year these are shared as part of the CERN easy access IP -

CERN has adopted a new approach to knowledge transfer under the label of CERN Easy Access IP, an initiative to make it easier for businesses and entrepreneurs to access intellectual property generated at CERN in the course of its research programme.(official press release)

Probably the most famous son of CERN is a man called TIm berners-Leewho while an independent contractor at there in 1980, proposed a project based on the concept of hypertext, to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers. Remember him? ;)

Oh.. the simpler explantion..

Take two Swiss Cuckoo clocks (handmade), accelerate on a circular track in opposite directions at near lightspeed till they collide. Pick up the pieces and assemble again to see what is missing. What is not there is what you are looking for :)

Blademaster2106
Blademaster2106
Much like Jon Snow, I know nothing. And that's exactly what inspired me to blog
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Blademaster2106 Friday, 06 July 2012

reply

@Nsain & Riiaan, thanks guys! :D

@Muscadecipio I couldn't agree more with you! Haha! Personally, I feel that research into stuff like this is rather pointless, but then again, it's also a stepping stone to greater things. (Though, as you mentioned, not in our lifetime.)

In researching this article I also came across a few of those ancillary technologies, but I felt they weren't really related to my specific topic. But you've given me a new perspective on them! To those of us who never graced the halls of CalTech or MIT, the ancillary technologies are what we gain from organisations like CERN's labours - things like the WWW. :)

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