13 November 2011

What Is The Higgs Boson And Why It Matters

CERN Announces Discovery of Higgs Boson

For the past couple of years, scientists have been trying to discover the Higgs Boson. But what is it? For a really simple explanation, Stephen Colbert, Justin Bieber, and Professor Peter Higgs himself will help explain it here.

Basically, the Higgs boson is theorized to be the particle that determines the mass of an object. More than the Higgs particle (a boson is a class of particles), it is the Higgs field that is important. The Higgs boson is the particle that comprises the field, much like how photons comprise the electromagnetic field.

By discovering the Higgs Boson, scientist may then understand how mass is obtained and why some elements have more mass than others.

Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity. Unlike weight, mass is not affected by gravity. An object has no weight in space but still has mass.

Video: Stephen Colbert and Physicist Brian Cox talking about the Higgs Boson. Highly recommended.

Imagine two people walking at the same pace and same direction in a mall, one is an unknown person and the other is Justin Bieber. Once the two stop walking, more people will flock around Justin Bieber than the other person. Once they start to move again, Bieber would have a hard time gaining momentum to move again because of the people surrounding him. The other, with no one hindering his movement, can easily resume his pace. Bieber has more mass thus slowing him down when trying to accelerate.

This group or clustering effect is called the Higgs mechanism, as postulated by British physicist Peter Higgs. The group of people surrounding Justin basically is a "Higgs field". Each person in that group is the "Higgs boson".

Basically, what Peter Higgs is proposing is that there is a field (Higgs field) that are attracted to objects thus slowing them down, giving them mass. The more particles (Higgs Boson) of the field that object attracts, the more mass it has. Furthermore, as the mass of an object approaches zero, the closer it gets to accelerating to the speed of light. This can be seen with light, since light has no mass and travels at that speed.

Video: Dr. Don Lincoln of Fermilab explains the Higgs Boson

Roger Cashmore Department of Physics of the University of Oxford, UK says, "We know from quantum theory that fields have particles associated with them, the particle for the electromagnetic field being the photon. So there must be a particle associated with the Higg's field, and this is the Higgs boson. Finding the Higgs boson is thus the key to discovering whether the Higgs field does exist and whether our best hypothesis for the origin of mass is indeed correct."

It should be noted that there are theories that does not include the Higgs field and are also equally important. So finding the Higgs field or proving that it does not exist then were both equally important in the field of science.

As Mary and Ian Butterworth of Imperial College London, and Doris and Vigdor Teplitz of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas state, "If particles get their masses from interacting with the empty space Higgs field, then the Higgs particle must exist; but we can't be certain without finding the Higgs. We have other hints about the Higgs; for example, if it exists, it plays a role in "unifying" different forces. However, we believe that nature could contrive to get the results that would flow from the Higgs in other ways. In fact, proving the Higgs particle does not exist would be scientifically every bit as valuable as proving it does."

Although the discovery of the Higgs particle was announced in 2012 by CERN, scientists were still not sure whether the particle they found was actually the Higgs. It was in March 2013 when the findings were verified and CERN released this statement, "CMS and ATLAS have compared a number of options for the spin-parity of this particle, and these all prefer no spin and positive parity [two fundamental criteria of a Higgs boson consistent with the Standard Model]. This, coupled with the measured interactions of the new particle with other particles, strongly indicates that it is a Higgs boson."

Video: Professor Peter Higgs talk about his life work and the Higgs Boson

Related Links

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