I’m going to go into the facts and the technical bits first, but what I really want to do is breakdown the Higgs boson for someone who doesn’t have an astrophysics degree or even a functional knowledge of the subject. I don’t have the degree, but I’ve found that I can find my way around in the sky while getting lost walking down the street from where I live. I’m going to use my amateur knowledge on this subject to make it easier to understand than explaining why anyone with the last name Kardashian is famous and/or remotely relevant.
I really, really liked Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw’s Why does E=mc²? and what it did for me. It helped me understand the theory of General Relativity ( the one that Einstein wrote, not the archaic one that Aristotelian physics took a jab at; I mean it was something considering he published it in 348 BCE but he wasn’t a fan of heliocentrism, so I’m not buying his T-shirt). So, back to Brian Cox and Jeff Foreshaw, they wrote a book that explains the theory of General Relativity in beautiful, simple language that an amateur like me could understand. Incidentally, it’s worth checking out their other co-authored book, The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen.
So after I lay out the facts, I’m going to attempt to explain the Higgs boson in a simple, non-migraine causing way. I’m no Brian Cox for sure, but I’m going to try. I’m just as close to getting to where CERN astrophysicists are as I am to starring in the sequel to Frozen. ( Note, my mum made me watch the thing and I’m probably going to need therapy).
i’m going to try and make it so easy that you don’t have to use any of the words mentioned above to explain the Higgs boson. Although if you want to, that’s a completely different matter.
Anyway. Sleeves rolled up.
The facts and the pesky little technical bits
It seems weird at first, but the discovery of the Higgs boson completes and leaves gaps in the Standard Model of Physics. In 2012, the ‘discovery’ of the Higgs boson was an achievement alright, one of the greatest accomplishments of human civilisation ( which makes up for less impressive products of the human race such as Eat, Pray, Love, Catholic nuns teaching science ( true story), the Teletubbies, Justin Bieber and the United Nations Security Council).
The discovery of a particle in the mass region 126 GeV meant that CERN found a Higgs like boson ( because that’s the average predicted mass of the Higgs), but Run 2 of the Large Hadron Collider which just started this year will be able to tell if that particle is the Higgs boson predicted by the Standard model of Physics or if it falls beyond the Standard model. There were a few posts and news articles lamenting the death of the Standard model, but I think that it’s progress whether the Higgs boson falls within or outside of the Standard model. Process of elimination, see?
So run 1 yielded great results for science and for the Standard model, but run 2 at CERN is aimed at putting the pieces of the supersymmetry theory together, y eureka! Standard model explained and extended by supersymmetry. There are a few glitches that CERN has pointed out though, including the rather problematic issue of pinning down the exact mass of the Higgs boson and explaining why it is so light, whereas in theory, its interaction with other particles in the Higgs field would make it considerably heavier. Except, in new collisions in the LHC, if particles predicted by super-symettry do show up, they would cancel out the remaining mass of the Higgs, making a light Higgs boson possible.
The original CERN on super-symmetry article explains the whole thing in an exponentially elegant way, so definitely gotta read that one if we’re to understand the way we make sense of the physical universe.
To some of you who might wonder ( and to those who aren’t, I apologise for explaining stuff you already know), and to some of whom I’ve seen trying to pick out India in a map of North America; a tradition started by Christopher Columbus, the Standard model is not an EU dress size. I’m going to try and break it down ( pun intended).
Brian Cox very eloquently explains the analogy that scientists at the time gave to Margaret Thatcher in 1986, if I’m not wrong, gotta look it up, but they basically said that the Higgs boson is like a famous person who enters a room, where the entire room and the people in it make up the Higgs field. When that famous or popular person ( they cited Thatcher as an example, shockingly :P) enters the room, everyone is drawn to them and there is a huddle around that person. That’s like the Higgs boson, it gives other particles mass by drawing them closer and interacting with them.
That’s as eloquent as you can get, but I’d like to take a stab at another one, which I’m sure will be along the lines of what Justin Bieber is to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
The explanation can be found in many different ways that are more often than not staring at you in the face. For instance, AA would be the Higgs boson for people who remember the alphabet as starting with A for Absinthe, B for Bourbon , C for Chardonnay…you get the idea. Doctor Who would be the Higgs boson for Whovians, and Who-Con would be like the Higgs field I suppose. I’d like to think that the Higgs boson is eloquently complicated but simple enough to understand through everyday analogies; drawing on the one that Brian Cox cites, obviously.
I don’t know if that makes any sense.
But I hope that makes things a lot less obscure than they were before you read this.
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