I am about to make a shocking and shameful confession. Take a deep breath – here goes.
I don’t understand the Higgs boson.
There I said it. The relief is palpable. The weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. I note with irony that if it weren’t for the Higgs the world would have no weight to lift from said over burdened shoulders. Buggered if I’ve got the fainest idea how that works though.
I’ve chuckled at the Higgs memes and littered this blog with witty references to CERN, large particle colliders and the delightful Professor Brian Cox. But don’t be fooled people. Just because I bandy these terms around doesn’t mean I know Jack Schitt. I am not entitled to wear the T Shirt below.
Whilst I get a nerdish giggle out of this type of thing,
I am just as clueless as Hansel here but not nearly as adorable.
As it was supposedly the most important scientific break-through of our young century, I made it my mission to get a very basic understanding of what it all means. Mission failed! Not even Quantum Physics for Dummies was helpful.
In the end I was reduced to reading science sites for school children. So here’s what those crazy kids know and we don’t.
Do you remember from High School that atoms have a nucleus made of protons and neutrons with smaller electrons whizzing around it? It turns out its actually much more complex than that.
The rockstars of theoretical physics spent the best part of the 1960s delving even further into the atom and building The Standard Model. By contrast regular rockstars cant remember that decade. Anyway these clever Richard’s broke protons and neutrons down to 12 basic particles called the fermions. They also identified four fundamental forces at work down there – the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force and gravity. So far so good. They then found that the forces couldn’t do their job without another group of particles known as bosons. I know I’m having a hard time conceptualizing this bit too. We’ll just have to take the egg heads’ word for it.
Apparently some of these bosons were really quite heavy – as heavy as a sub-atomic particle can get (which is not very but this is all relative). At this point a group of six physicists (including recent Nobel laureate Peter Higgs) came up with a mind warping idea as was fashionable for the time. They postulated that an energy field much like a blanket permeated the universe. George Lucas nicked this concept in the 1970s. This ethereal “blanket” caused some (but not all) of the subatomic particles to drag. The resistance to the “blanket” is what gives things mass. Mass is really just resistance to being moved around. To prove the blanket’s existence big science set out to make it wobble. The “wobble” is basically the Higgs boson.
Fifty years and several billion euros later the Higgs boson was found by the troupe at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland. An idea that sounds like it belongs to the most ridiculous of science fiction/fantasy films was vindicated. The momentous announcement was made to the world’s eager press on July 4th 2013 via a power point presentation in comic sans font.
So now the mystery is solved can particle physicists rest on their laurels? Computer says “no”.
The Standard Model is in some ways a gigantic pain in the proverbial because whilst it works tremendously well here on earth there’s a heck of alot it doesn’t explain about the cosmos. Firstly we don’t have a grip on how gravity works. Secondly the observations made by astronomers and cosmologists simply dont tally with the theory with have. Galaxies are seen to be spinning so fast that ordinary physics would have them fly apart. Something mysterious was giving them the gravitational hold to keep them together. Scientists came up with the idea of “dark matter” in attempt to explain this. Unfortunately no one knows what dark matter is and the Standard Model hasn’t helped. If that weren’t bad enough apparently the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace which is unexplained by our ideas of gravity. The cause has been dubbed “dark energy” and again no one has a clue what it is. This mysterious force failed to reveal itself through the Standard Model although it did help this guy make it to the top of his profession.
It looks like the next job for the LHC is to try and create dark matter. Spooky. I for one am worried. If a life time of science fiction has taught me anything its that where there’s dark matter, there’s a rift in the fabric of space time and that is just begging for an alien invasion.
I hope I’ve made this all a little clearer for you. I know it is of vital importance to your daily lives.