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Higgs Boson: How It Works

You must've heard about the Higgs boson last week. Surely, you've heard about it. It's that particle that those guys in Switzerland have (probably) been able to detect on LHC. There was very much fanfare around this event in the media, but I doubt that even 2% of the people who heard about 'this tremendous discovery' have the least idea what it's all about.

The cue that the press would repeat as a powerful spell the whole of the last week were 'Standard model', 'mass', and 'particle'. Still, even when combined in one meaningful sentence, 'The Higgs boson is the last elementary particle in the Standard Model, the existence of which has not been verified yet,' these terms do not become more informative for us laymen.

Let's try to look into what a heck it all should mean.

The Standard Model is, roughly speaking, a description of the world on the elementary paricles level that seeks to explain most of the Universe we live in. According to this theory, the elementary particles are actually no particles in the way we're used to see them. I regret to disappoint you but they are not similar to the red, blue and green balls that your physics and chemistry teachers would show you at school: they are no lumps of matter floating in the void. The Standard Model views the elementary particle's world as rather consisting of many intersecting power fields, like the electromagnetic field you encounter each time you switch on the light or are interacting with right now, sitting in front of your device. The elementary particles are actually disturbances in these fields, small oscillations. So, the photons (i.e. particles of light) are actually oscillations in the above mentioned electromagnetic field.

According to this reasoning, the Higgs boson is also an oscillation in the so-called Higgs field. And that's where we come to the most interesting part, as this field is actually responsible for producing that thing we all know as 'mass'. Mass is, basically, how much an object resists the acceleration, i.e. to what extent it is prone to slowing down when accelerating. So, how can some field prduce this effect?

In order to answer this question, let us try to conduct a thought experiment. Let's take a polished table and roll a ball on its top. If the tabletop have been polished in good faith by the artisan, the ball will roll fast and without slowing down that much. Now, let us smear the tabletop with tar and roll the ball once again. What will happen? Right, the ball will roll way slower than the first time, and can even stop soon after it starts rolling. In other words, its resistance to acceleration will become much more. See what I am driving at?

Bingo! The Higgs field is the quantum physics counterpart of the tar we smeared on the tabletop in pour thought experiment, except that it permeates the whole Universe. When other particles, otherwise essentialy massless, interact with the Higgs field, they get smeared in its 'Higgs-ness' and acquire the mass. Ta-da!

I hope, now you see why the egg-headed folks in Switzerland were so excited to discover this goddamn boson (pun intended). When they hadn't done it, all their theories would have collapes like a house of cards. Apparently, they haven't. Cheerio!


Comments (5)

BlackDragon BlackDragon # 0 Up Down

Thanks for clarifying — after numerous articles upon the issue I had a mess in my mind: what is it all about, what's that thing (Higgs Boson), etc. And speaking about scientists — yup, they were very lucky to have proven their theories. Now they know they are moving the right direction and we can celebrate the new discovery with them. Hooray!

CrazyMom CrazyMom # 0 Up Down

Sorry, I do not really understand how these discoveries can be used in practice. What is their actual use? How can they affect our daily life? Could it be possible that collider may lead us to the end of world?

Zocker Zocker # 0 Up Down

Sorry, did anyone really understand how the quantum physics could be used in practice when it was just developed? And now half of the devices in your household and even this very device you're reading this article on work based on the quantum physics principles.

Wahr Darty Wahr Darty # 0 Up Down

Very illustrative, thank you. But I also don't understand what this great particle has been designed for.

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