Language · Media

Not so deific particle

In a May 5, 2017, article Space.com‘s Spaceman1 discusses why there’s much ado about the Higgs boson.

Let’s be perfectly honest. The Higgs boson and its role in the universe are not the easiest things to explain. It doesn’t help that the Higgs has the horrible nickname of “the God Particle” and is often described as being “responsible for mass in the universe” or something like that.

The Higgs boson is indeed an important part of modern physics, but elevating it to the status of a deity seems a bit of a stretch, and the whole “making mass” thing isn’t even this particle’s most important job.

Sometimes using words that admittedly are in lieu of better ones, he explains:

At high temperatures, the four carries of the electroweak force do their thing (carry the electroweak force) and the four higglets do their thing (not much of anything). But at low temperatures, the higglets get disrupted. Three of them “glue” … to three of the electroweak carriers. … and, voilà, the weak force is born.

But the fourth higglet gets “stuck” … in an asymmetrical state that prevents it from matching up with the remaining electroweak carrier. … and, aha, you get the photon, carrying the now-familiar electromagnetic force.

That fourth “stuck” higglet is left all alone, and that particle is what scientists mean when they say they’re looking for the Higgs boson. By searching for that particle, and hence learning about its associated field, researchers can get a better understanding … why the weak nuclear force is fundamentally different from the electromagnetic force.

His article contains an image of a “Simulation of a particle collision in which a Higgs boson is produced,”  a March 23, 2017, YouTube video2 on the subject, and an interesting video analogizing the Higgs field to a snowy landscape — an infinite flat field of snow — and different modes of crossing (interacting with) that snow.

 

[1] Paul Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University and the chief scientist at COSI science center. Sutter is also host of Ask a Spaceman, RealSpace and COSI Science Now. He contributed this article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

[2] Published on Mar 23, 2017 — Can we stop with “The God Particle”? — Part One! What does the Higgs Boson mean? What role does it play in the forces of nature? What makes it so special? … these questions and more in today’s Ask a Spaceman!