Blogging the coolest new theories, experiments and ideas in science
A long absence kinda curtailed this blog for a while - new job, new country and various bits of bad news. I think it should all have settled down enough now to start doing this again, it is something I really started to enjoy before. I will try to update a few times a week.
I did plan to keep this whole thing up to date a lot more than I have. Unfortunately it turned out writing my thesis got in the way rather, and I was unable to keep up! My thesis is written now, which allows me to get back to the things I really enjoy, like this =}.
On the plus side, I have several months of interesting science to catch up on and post on here =}
You may or may not have heard that scientist have found indications of the existence of the Higg’s boson at CERN, with a mass of around 125 GeV (the giga electron volt is about 0.000000000000000000000000001 kg, or about a million billion billion times less than a grain of rice) .
Anyway, I wanted to try to explain why on earth there is so much fuss over this particle. Well, it is all because we don’t understand where mass comes from. It is probably something you haven’t really thought about before, because everything just has it, but when you think about it it is a little odd that things like electrons and quarks (the things protons and neutrons are made from) just happen to have a certain mass (0.51 MeV for electrons, 2.4 MeV for up quarks, 4.8 MeV for down quarks). Well that is where the Higg’s boson steps in. The story gets a little bit tricky, and I don’t fully understand all of this myself in gory detail, but I will try to explain this.
The Higg’s boson is predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics to explain why the fundamental forces (electromagnetic, strong, weak and gravity) don’t all have the same strength (in truth, it is just the EM and weak forces, but it too much to go into, and if you are interested read this link). Basically, the presence of the Higg’s boson breaks the symmetry between the strength of the forces, and it does this in a clever way. At high energy the strength of the EM and weak force is the same and they are together referred to as the electroweak force. It is the fact that they are the same at high energy but different at low energy that we are trying to explain here.
So how does the Higg’s boson do this? It interacts with the electroweak force in such a way that one part of it, the EM force, stays like it was before. The other part, the weak force interacts with the Higg’s boson, causing the particles that make up the weak force (W and Z particles) to become massive. Why this is then cool is because the Higg’s boson must also interact with the electrons and quarks in the same way, giving them mass! So we explain two things with one idea, which is always neat. The problem is, the Standard Model doesn’t tell us the mass of the Higg’s boson, so it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. However, if the Higg’s boson is found, it basically means that the Standard Model of particle physics is correct (at least so far as no new data is discovered that it can’t explain), and this would be a massive thing to know. On the other hand, if the Higg’s boson isn’t found, it means that the Standard Model is wrong, and particle physicists will have to come up with a whole new theory of particles, which would be amazing!
I hope I could perhaps lift some of the mystery surrounding the Higg’s boson, because you do read a lot of crap about it.