5 Things You Need to Know About the Higgs Boson

1. The Higgs Boson Explains Why Particles of Matter Have Mass

Image courtesy of David Miller of University College, London

Image courtesy of David Miller of University College, London

All matter is made up a few different fundamental building blocks called fermions. Fermions are kind of like LEGO blocks. You can connect the fermions in different ways to create larger particles. Each fermion has a different mass even though they are about the same size. For example, the Top Quark is over 300 times more massive than the electron. So what gives the Top Quark so much more mass than the electron? It all comes down to a particle called the Higgs Boson.

The Higgs Boson interacts with matter through a mechanism called the Higgs Field. The Higgs Field is a field of particles that permeates the entire universe. It’s kind of like an ocean. Everything in an ocean is completely surrounded by water. The Higgs Field is made up of countless Higgs Bosons in the same way that water is made up of countless water molecules.

When you go swimming in a body of water you usually wear a swim suit. Swim suits are designed to give you freedom of movement so that you can glide freely through the water. Imagine trying to swim with a large winter parka on instead of a swim suit. You would interact with the water a lot more and it would be very difficult to move around. In the same way, massive particles interact a lot with the Higgs field and particles with a small amount of mass act very little with the Higgs Field.

David Miller created the cartoon above to explain the Higgs Boson to the UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. In the picture, Margaret Thatcher represents a very important person at a party. She is completely surrounded by people who are interacting with her. Margaret thatcher is like a massive particle like the Top Quark and the people interacting with her are like the Higgs Bosons. If an unpopular person were to walk through the same party, they would interact with very few people. The unpopular person would represent a particle with a very small amount of mass.

2. The Higgs Boson is the Key to Unlocking the Standard Model of Particle Physics.


Image courtesy of Fermilab

The Standard Model of Particle Physics is a theory to explain the composition of matter and the forces that interact with matter. The theory states that all matter is made up of a combination of 12 basic particles called fermions (these are the purple and green particles in the diagram above). The fermions are separated into two groups: Quarks and Leptons. Quarks and Leptons combine together to form the larger, more commonly known particles; protons and neutrons. The fermions interact with each other (attract and hold together) because of the Four Fundamental Forces: Strong Force, Weak Force, Electromagnetic Force and Gravity. The fundamental forces are attributed to the fermions through massless particles called Gauge Bosons. Four Gauge Bosons (the pink particles in the diagram above) are responsible for the strong force, the weak force, and the electromagnetic force. There is also an undiscovered, theoretical particle called the Graviton that is thought to relate to gravity.

It was not understood why some particles have mass and other particles do not have mass. The Higgs Boson was the missing part of Standard Theory and it is the Higgs Boson that provides mass to all of the other particles.

3. The Idea of the Higgs Boson was First Proposed by Dr. Peter Higgs

Dr. Peter Higgs - Image Courtesy of Bengt Nyman

Dr. Peter Higgs – Image Courtesy of Bengt Nyman

Peter Higgs is a British Particle Physicist  and a Professor at University of Edinburgh. In 1964 he published a paper that described his prediction that there is a massive boson that gives mass to all other particles.

4. The Higgs Boson was Officially Discovered on July 4th 2012

Evidence of the Higgs Boson - Image courtesy of CERN

Evidence of the Higgs Boson – Image courtesy of CERN

Believe it or not, the picture above is the actual data that gave evidence to the existence of the Higgs Boson. These strange patterns were created with an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. The Large Hadron Collider is a massive scientific instrument called a particle accelerator. This device accelerates tiny particles  to speeds that are close to the speed of light and then smashes the particles together. The collisions are recorded using special detectors. Specially trained scientists are able to read and interpret the pictures.

5. Peter Higgs was Awarded the Nobel Prize on December 10 2013 For His Theory of the Higgs Boson

Nobel Prize - Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/atbaker/8459286843/

Nobel Prize – Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/atbaker/8459286843/

Dr. Peter Higgs was awarded the Nobel Prize for his theory after experimental evidence as accepted by the scientific community. Higgs was quick to acknowledge the many individuals that worked on this project, saying, “I would also like to congratulate all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle and to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support.”

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