The Higgs boson, why does it matter?

Written by michael keys | 13/05/2017
The Higgs boson, why does it matter?
Rolf-Dieter Heuer, present Director of CERN (Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Scientists are almost, nearly (not quite) confident they have found something called the Higgs boson particle. Where were you on the day that “The God Particle” was discovered? To be honest I slept in that day, ended up missing the bus and I'm quite sure it was raining. After all, for the majority of us the 4th of July (unless you're from the US) doesn't really stand out from the calendar more than any other rainy day in July. But should it and should we really care about Mr. Higgs boson? Well, yes, and here's why...

And on the third day...

The Higgs boson, why does it matter?
(Johannes Simon/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

On Wednesday 4th of July 2012 scientists from the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) at their not-so-secret layer in in Geneva, Switzerland, announced that they were confident they had found an elusive particle called the Higgs boson - named after Peter Higgs. We apparently had to be super impressed by their success. They also assumed we knew what the Higgs was, whereas in reality most of us were frantically Googling "Higgs boson."

Everything we can see is only 4 percent of the entire universe, while the rest is made up of the mysterious dark matter. The Higgs discovery will rule out some theories, point us further toward the unknown and explain how the universe really works.

Brass tacks

The Higgs boson, why does it matter?
(Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

So now you’re still wondering why this god-like particle is so important. Well, imagine an East End London flat full of wannabe musicians at a party. They are equally distributed (or sprawled) about the room talking to their nearest neighbour. Now imagine a famous musician, let's say Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones, walks into the room. Suddenly the distribution of the musicians around him would gravitate towards Wood while those left would return to their spaces. As they gravitate towards him it would become more difficult for Ronnie to move through the room. Because of the amount of people around the rock star they acquire a greater mass. Kind of like what particles do to the Higgs boson.

If physicists can definitively detect the Higgs boson and determine its mass, the discovery would have wide-reaching implications...

Hooray for us

The Higgs boson, why does it matter?
(Michael Greenberg/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

In a word finding Higgs will change everything -- but especially for scientists. The Higgs boson is a theoretical particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of Particle Physics -- a user manual for modern-day physics. So if the particle can be found then the Standard Model is correct and all the scientists will be merrily patting each other on the back. Finding Higgs will also justify the £6.5 billion spent by CERN on the Large Hadron Collider with the goal of locating the elusive particle.

The glue of the world

The Higgs boson, why does it matter?
(Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Finding the Higgs particle holds the key to resolving the mystery of the origin of mass. Professor Andy Parker, professor of high energy physics at the University of Cambridge, explains that: "Most people imagine particles of matter to be like little billiard balls, which are stuck together in some way to make the solid objects which we see around us. However, in modern quantum theories, matter is nothing like this. All the particles would, if left to themselves, have no mass at all, and fly around at the speed of light. The Higgs field is the proposed answer to this mismatch between our equations and what we see. The Higgs field fills all of space, and as the particles try to move through it, their interactions with it cause them to appear to have mass."

The Force is strong with this one

The Higgs boson, why does it matter?
(Johannes Simon/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

The universe has two fundamental forces - the electromagnetic force that governs interactions between charged particles, and the weak force that's responsible for radioactive decay - and if the Higgs boson is found these two forces could be unified into the electroweak force.

Supersymmetry

The Higgs boson, why does it matter?
(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images)

Another theory that would be affected by the discovery of the Higgs is called supersymmetry. The theory goes that every type of particle has one or more superpartners — other types of particles that share many of the same properties, but differ in a crucial way. Supersymmetry is attractive because it could help unify some of the other forces of nature and even hold the key to mysterious dark matter.

Back to the lab

The Higgs boson, why does it matter?
(Michael Blann/Lifesize/Getty Images)

One thing's for sure: Now the real work begins. Months and possibly years of studies lie ahead of scientists to confirm that the particle is indeed the Higgs boson. Some are anxious that CERN might discover only the simplest form of Higgs particle and nothing beyond it. "I had a nightmare which is that Cern would discover the Higgs boson and then nothing else. Discovering the Higgs particle, gratifying as it is, does not provide a clue to how to go beyond the Standard Model," said Steven Weinberg, a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, who won the Nobel prize in 1979 for work that used the maths behind the Higgs theory.

Related: Click here for science's greatest mysteries

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