What's all the fuss about the Higgs boson particle?
On July 4th researchers with the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) announced that they are more than 99% sure they have discovered a new, heavy particle that very well may be the Higgs Boson.
Two different experiments at the (LHC) in Switzerland, found this new particle has a mass of about 125 GeV, with 1 gigaelectron volt about the mass of a proton. Most of us have a difficult time appreciating what this means. However, if indeed this discovery can be confirmed as the Higgs boson, it will have very large implications. The following are just 5 of them:
1. The concept and origin of mass
"The Higgs mechanism is the thing that allows us to understand how the particles acquire mass," said Joao Guimaraes da Costa, a physicist at Harvard University who is the Standard Model Convener at the LHC's ATLAS experiment. "If there was no such mechanism, then everything would be massless."
"This discovery bears on the knowledge of how mass comes about at the quantum level, and is the reason we built the LHC. It is an unparalleled achievement," Caltech professor of physics Maria Spiropulu, co-leader of the CMS experiment, said in a statement.
2. The Standard Model
"It's the missing piece in the Standard Model," said Jonas Strandberg, a researcher at CERN working on the ATLAS experiment. "So it would definitely be a confirmation that the theories we have now are right." If the newly detected particle turns out not to be the Higgs boson, it would mean physicists made some assumptions that are wrong, and they'd have to go back to the drawing board.
"The Standard Model describes what we have measured, but we know it doesnt have gravity in it, it doesn't have dark matter," said CERN physicist William Murray, the senior Higgs convener at ATLAS and a physicist at the U.K.'s Science and Technology Facilities Council. "So we're hoping to extend it to include more."
3. The Electroweak Force
Every force in nature is associated with a particle. If youre a particle, you have a force that youre connected with. The particle tied to electromagnetism is the photon, a tiny, massless particle. The weak force is associated with particles called the W and Z bosons, which are very massive.
Though other evidence has helped buffer the union of these two forces, the discovery of the Higgs would seal the deal. "That's already pretty solid," Murray said. "What we're trying to do now is find really the crowning proof."
Another theory that would be affected by the discovery of the Higgs is called supersymmetry. This idea posits that every known particle has a "superpartner" particle with slightly different characteristics. Its bit like a subatomic buddy system.
Supersymmetry is attractive because it could help unify some of the other forces of nature, and even offers a candidate for the particle that makes up dark matter. The newly detected particle is in the low-mass range, at 125.3 or so GeV, something that lends credence to supersymmetry.
"If the Higgs boson is found at a low mass, which is the only window still open, this would make supersymmetry a viable theory," Strandberg said."We'd still have to prove supersymmetry exists."
5. Validation of LHC
"This discovery bears on the knowledge of how mass comes about at the quantum level, and is the reason we built the LHC. It is an unparalleled achievement," Spiropulu said in a statement. "More than a generation of scientists has been waiting for this very moment and particle physicists, engineers, and technicians in universities and laboratories around the globe have been working for many decades to arrive at this crucial fork. This is the pivotal moment for us to pause and reflect on the gravity of the discovery, as well as a moment of tremendous intensity to continue the data collection and analyses."
The discovery of the Higgs would also have major implications for scientist Peter Higgs and his colleagues who first proposed the Higgs mechanism in 1964.