What the hell is the Higgs Boson? (And why should I care?)

Our journalism class’ latest assignment is a four-week four-post blogging project on a particular topic. However, the first two of our posts will not be published on the school news site, with the second two only being published if they are deemed worthy. I’ve jsut written the first, and not wanting it to go to waste, I’ve posted it below. My blog will be called “From Atoms to the Universe: Adventures in Physics”. Each post can be no more than 400 words, so it’s short and sweet compared to the (my) average blog ramble. Enjoy!

 

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You’ve heard that they turned on a giant atom-smasher to find it. You’ve heard it called the “god particle” and that it can unify physics. You know people (scientists in particular) are excited about it, but every time CERN and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are mentioned all that seems to come out is more uncertainty, more confusion.

A section of the Large Hadron Collider being fitted into place. The project was a huge engineering undertaking. Image courtesy of Flickr user solarnu.

The fact is, it’s hard to get something solid out of looking for a particle that is thought to be 1/10000000000000000000000000 th of a kilogram (according to the most recent results), and lasting only a fraction of a second. That’s why a particle accelerator spanning 27 km and two countries is needed to study it: the physicists are trying to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, and that requires a lot of energy. Flinging particles around a huge racing track and smashing them into each other is the only way to do it.

So what’s it all for? Some science brings obvious real-world results: think cancer treatments and computer processors. Some investigations take a while to become tangible, like satellite technology leading to the GPS network, without which nobody in a car would know where they were going. The hunt for the Higgs Boson is something else, something that media insiders often call “whizz-bang science”. It is fascinating, amazing, intriguing, and practically useless.

Particle physicists would of course disagree, but the fact is that finding the Higgs Boson will not impact the everyday lives of you and I at all, except perhaps to stimulate our interest in the stars. The Higgs Boson is theorized to be the particle that gives all other particles mass. Physics has been looking for the smallest elements of nature since the ancient Greeks proposed earth, fire, water and air. Most have been defined since the 1970s, in a unifying theory called the Standard Model of physics, but only now are we approaching the stage of finding them all. More importantly, the Higgs Boson will be the next great leap forward in explaining how and why things act the way they do; from quarks and electrons to galaxies and black holes; from atoms to the universe.

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2 thoughts on “What the hell is the Higgs Boson? (And why should I care?)

  1. The one thing that might come out of all of this is a deeper understanding of gravity which could, in turn, lead to methods of controlling and creating it artificially, and that would completly revolutionise our world.

    Nicely written though, gets my vote. 😉

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