Know More: Higgs Boson

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Peter Higgs, a British physicist, had predicted the existence of the Higgs boson or God particle almost half a century ago. Now, the world is celebrating the discovery of the very particle that Peter Higgs had predicted. We try to simplify the Higgs boson for you.

What is the Higgs boson?

The Higgs boson is the particle that is believed to hold the universe together and describes the basic building blocks of the universe. In 1964, three scientists, Higgs, Robert Brout and Francois Englert predicted that this particle must exist to explain mass—the most important property of all matter. However, its existence was never confirmed until recently. The discovery of the Higgs boson was announced on July 4, 2012 at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland.

The name Higgs boson comes from two names—Peter Higgs and Indian scientist Satyendra Nath Bose. In 1924, Bose had sent a paper to Albert Einstein describing the statistical model that led to the discovery of the Bose-Einstein condensate phenomenon. This paper laid the basis for describing the two classes of subatomic particles—bosons, named after Bose, and fermions, after Italian physicist Enrico Fermi.

How was the Higgs boson found?
The Higgs boson was found at the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is buried 300ft below the ground near Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC is designed to accelerate protons to very high speeds and then smash them together creating tiny fireballs. This recreates the conditions that prevailed when the universe was less than a trillionth of a second old. Scientists found the Higgs boson particle in this controlled environment.

The LHC is the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator that sits in a tunnel below the ground on the Swiss-French border. Two beams of protons are fired in opposite directions, which smash into each other to create many millions of particle collisions every second in a recreation of the conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. The vast amount of data generated through this process is examined by banks of computers. Of all the many millions of collisions, very few are just right for revealing the Higgs particle. This is what makes the hunt for the Higgs boson slow.

Why is this discovery important?

This discovery will shed light on other mysteries of the universe—why some particles have mass, why protons don’t have mass and more. In fact, it is one of the greatest achievements in science. The role of the Higgs boson is to give the particles that make up atoms–protons, neutrons and electrons–their mass. Without this mass, they would zip around the universe and would not bind together to form the atoms that make stars, planets and people. Hence, its discovery solves the mystery behind how these atoms combined to form the universe. Its discovery is essential as it can now confirm the Standard Model of Physics, which is a generally accepted theory about how the universe works. The particle is often described as ‘the most sought-after particle in modern physics’.

What is the Standard Model?
The Standard Model of Physics is the best explanation physicists have of how the building blocks of the universe
came together. It describes 12 fundamental particles governed by four basic forces. But the universe is a big place and the Standard Model only explains a small part of it. Scientists have spotted a gap between what we can see and what must be out there. That gap must be filled by something we don’t fully understand, which scientists call ‘dark matter’. Galaxies are also hurtling away from each other faster than the forces we know about suggest they should. These unknown forces are called ‘dark energy’. This poorly understood pair is believed to make up a whopping 96% of the mass and energy of the cosmos. Confirming the Standard Model, or perhaps modifying it, would be a step towards understanding things like dark matter, dark energy and the force of gravity, which the Standard Model also does not explain.

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