July 26, 2011

Reports cite possible evidence of Higgs boson

If you're not a science freak, the search for the Higgs boson (sometimes called the Higgs particle or the foolishly named "god particle") may seem uninteresting. But it's wildly interesting to scientists because it tells us something essential about the nature of reality. And according to a story at BBC, it seems there may finally be an indication that the Higgs boson exists.

Longish post after the jump:

The theory, and that's all it is, is that nothing would have mass if not for the Higgs boson. The idea is that mass sorta kinda isn't real. Instead, mass is a reflection of how intensely a particle interacts with the Higgs field. Scientists theorize that the Higgs boson is everywhere, permeating all space and time. We refer to the entire thing as the Higgs "field". If it exists, it's literally everywhere.

Some things -- those with very low mass -- pass right through the Higgs field as if it isn't there. Neutrinos, for instance, have no mass. They actually pass right through the Earth as if it wasn't there! If the theory is correct, they can do this because they have no (or very little) interaction with the Higgs field.

Other particles interact strongly with the Higgs field. It pulls on them, slowing them down as they try to pass through it. For those that interact most strongly, the Higgs field is almost impenetrable. It's like trying to swim through an ocean of glue.

But this concept -- that mass is a direct reflection of the intensity of interaction with the Higgs field -- is only conjecture until the elusive Higgs particle is found. And after looking for it in every particle accelerator that was ever built, and not finding it, it is electric news to say that it may have been found. Even a maybe is exciting here because of the long, intense search for the Higgs boson.

The reason this is so important to scientists is that without a Higgs field, there's no reason for anything to have the mass it does. If the Higgs boson doesn't exist, there is a huge hole in physics. The standard model needs a Higgs field, or something very much like it. So all eyes are focused on the coming experiments. This is a very big deal and we should have the answer in 2012.

Mind you, they haven't seen a Higgs boson. The news is basically that they learned its zip code (maybe). So they can look for it in a specific place (at a specific energy level, to be more precise). Further experiments and analysis of data will tell the tale. I'm very excited. The Higgs boson may be real!

My apologies to any scientists who happen upon this post. My understanding of science isn't deep and I'm sure I've explained this poorly. I'm just a physics fan doing the best I can here. Feel free to correct me in the comments.

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