Higgs boson

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The Higgs boson, or the "God particle" was the last remaining unobserved particle in the Standard Model of physics, and was the reason so many people feared scientists would destroy the Earth.[1] Like photons, they are a type of boson. The introduction of the Higgs field (which is a scalar field) spontaneously breaks the symmetry of the electroweak theory and gives the gauge bosons mass. (It also gives the leptons and quarks their mass.)

Despite the nickname, confirmation of the "God Particle" neither counts as proof nor disproof of the existence of (a) God. This misunderstanding has led to many fundamentalists and creationists getting hot and bothered about a field of physics which they are probably not mentally equipped to understand.

Quantum field theory and the electroweak theory[edit]

The Standard Model is formulated as a quantum field theory (QFT) — that is, the fundamental quantities are fields, and the particles arise from quantization of the excitations of those fields. The photon is the quantum of the electromagnetic field, and the Higgs boson is the quantum of the Higgs field. However, at the quantum level, these are not particles in the everyday sense of the word; they have an exact momentum, so, by the uncertainty principle, they are spread out over all space. In QFT, interactions result from exchange of virtual particles. These virtual particles are known as force carriers. For the electromagnetic force, they are photons. For the strong force, they are gluons. For the weak force, they are the W+, W- and Z0 bosons.

All those forces are expressed as gauge theories. A gauge theory essentially says that all interactions are manifestations of symmetries. The problem is, gauge invariance requires that the force carriers be massless. This is not the case: the W and Z bosons are pretty heavy. You could just give the gauge bosons (force carriers) mass by hand, explicitly violating gauge invariance… but this won't work out nicely. There is another method of breaking the gauge symmetry that will work out nicely though: spontaneous symmetry breaking. This involves introducing a scalar field (which is the Higgs field) with the Mexican hat potential so that the Higgs' ground state is not invariant under the gauge transformations. When this interacts with the gauge bosons, it will give them mass. As an added bonus, the theory will also be invariant under the gauge transformations. The same difficulty also applies to the quarks and leptons, and using the Higgs mechanism avoids those. Clever, huh?

What about the photon?[edit]

You may be confused at this point. What about the photon? If the electromagnetic and weak forces are actually one and the same, and the gauge bosons get mass, how does the photon remain massless? Well, the photon is actually a linear combination of the W0 and B bosons, which both interact with the Higgs field. The interaction of the Higgs field with the W0 cancels out the interaction of the Higgs with the B boson. Hence, the photon remains massless and the U(1)EM symmetry remains unbroken.

The Higgs field[edit]

Still reading? Good! As we have seen, the Higgs particle is the complementary particle to the Higgs field, the proposed mechanism by which particles attain mass. As a result, it is crucial to the understanding of the workings of the Universe and whether the Standard Model is a correct interpretation of the workings of the quantum world. As of December 2011, there were many rumours indicating that the discovery was imminent and that that the boson would be discovered in the mass range of 114.4-131 GeV and more specifically around 125 GeV. Despite the apparent likelihood of finding it soon, physicists were still disagreeing about when or if we would find it and even whether or not it exists in late 2011. [2] In early 2012 CERN and other data collected by the Tevatron both found inconclusive evidence that the Higgs boson exists with a mass close to 125 GeV. [3] In July 2012 CERN claimed a particle has been found with the properties expected on the Higgs boson. Spectacular claims have been made that the Higgs boson will allow travel at the speed of light and that it will be possible to switch mass off. [4] Time may be needed before we know if these claims will gain acceptance in the scientific community or will be dismissed as wild speculation. Alternatively, the newly discovered particle may not be exactly what the standard model of physics expects the Higgs boson to be, it could be a different and more exciting particle that some non-standard models of physics predict. If that is true the new particle may in the long run explain more than discovering the standard Higgs boson would have explained. [5] Scientists are very confident that the Higgs boson or something like it exists. [6]

The "God" Particle[edit]

So, the Higgs boson walks into a Catholic church, and the priest orders him out. "We don't serve bosons in here!" he said. The Higgs replied, "But without me, how can you have any Mass?[7]

In 1993, Leon Lederman, a physicist and Dick Teresi, a pop science writer, wrote The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?. The book gave a brief history of particle physics as we know it today, but it has become slightly more famous for its title. Lederman described the reasoning behind the name "God Particle" by describing the Higgs boson as:

…so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive.

However, his "real" reason was that the publishers wouldn't allow the name "Goddamned Particle" in reference to how difficult it is to observe. The fact that the Large Hadron Collider, at a cost of around $9 billion, was built specifically to find it should be a testament to how important the Higgs boson is and how elusive it was. Yet, the name has stuck for the far more mystical reasons rather than Lederman's attempt at a joke. This has led to masses of confusion amongst religious fundamentalists who have, at one end of the scale, literally thought CERN was looking for God, or at the other, just abused the term for their own ends.[8]

  • Creation Ministries International took the opportunity to note that, despite finding the God particle physicists didn't really give enough attention to the real thing.[9]
  • Twitter users, naturally, secured their place in the bottom half of the internet.[10]
  • Yet another group claims proof the Large Hadron Collider is a torture device designed "to torment the God Particle into telling them the secret equations of life." What is worse, the God particle is getting angry leading to sinkholes, earthquakes, unusual solar flares and "super moons". The anger of the God particle could destroy the whole Universe. [11]
  • Some conservative commentators were happy to downplay it as much as possible. Thomas Flemming, writing in the Daily Mail[12] and Terry Hurlbut[13] both managed to completely confuse a five-sigma significant discovery of a boson corresponding to theoretical predictions of the Standard Model with some formal attack on religion.

Generally, the discovery sparked a lot of debate about physics and whether that explains life better than God,[14] but how much of this was directly caused by Lederman's mocking nomenclature rather than the actual scientific implications will never really be known.

Sci-fi[edit]

The elusive nature of the Higgs gave science fiction authors a carte-blanche for scientifically "plausible" jargon to fill their scripts[15] up to its discovery in 2012, and since there is still speculation about the exact nature of the newly discovered particle, imaginative fiction may continue.

More Sci-fi[edit]

God/Nature/Something was stopping us finding that Higgs boson. The Higgs boson didn’t want to be created or discovered so it or something was travelling back in time to disrupt the Large Hadron Collider and prevent its creation/discovery. Or God or Nature or something was causing accidents to happen there. Could the Large Hadron Collider have been sabotaging itself from the future, as some physicists said???[16] Below are other possibilities:

  1. The FBI, the CIA, a secret branch of the United States Marine Corps or some other nefarious American organisation was sabotaging CERN because they didn't want Europe to get ahead of the United States in this important area of research.
  2. Extraterrestrials were sabotaging the LHC because they didn’t want Earthlings to get ahead in this important area of research.

Now that the LHC has multiple confirmed detections of the Higgs boson under its belt, though, these old conspiracy theories are all moot.

See also[edit]

Not to be confused with BosunsWikipedia's W.svg, Bosoms, or Bison

External links[edit]

References[edit]