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The ‘God Particle’

July 4, 2012

Why are objects the size that they are? The answer is quite simple. It’s the size of the molecules and atoms that make them up.

But why is an atom the size that it is? That’s determined by the size of the orbits of the electrons around the atom, which in turn is determined by the mass of the electron. Smaller mass means smaller orbits, means smaller everything. But why is the electron the mass that it is? Indeed, why does it have any mass at all? In fact, theory dictates that for all the elementary particles that compose the atom to interact as they do, their masses should actually be zero.

So what’s happening? The neat solution proposed by Professor Peter Higgs would seem to have it all figured out. He suggests that there is a field which permeates space, which moving particles interact with, thus acquiring the appearance of mass. Imagine a weightless pea (if you can!) moving through treacle.

So does this field actually exist? Quantum theory tells us that fields are associated with particles (a thing called ‘wave-particle duality’) so there must be a particle complementary to the Higgs field. For example, the particle associated with the electromagnetic field is the photon. The particle is known as the Higgs boson, and a lot of time, money, energy and intellect is being applied to finding out whether this particle, and therefore whether the Higgs field, actually exists.

This is where the Large Hadron Collider comes in, built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). It works by accelerating protons around a kind of 17-mile underground racetrack, in order to smash them together at astronomically high speeds, with the purpose of creating smaller bits of matter, one of which could be a Higgs boson. If created, it would exist for only a tiny fraction of time, but hopefully long enough to be detected.

Today it seems that the  elusive boson, that Pimpernel of particles, has indeed been landed!

From → Science

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