I wrote about the Higgs boson discovery in Scottish Times today.
Here’s a link to the original piece and I’ve also pasted it below…
Higgs boson: what is this ‘God particle’ and has it finally been discovered?
by Karla Healion for Scottish Times (www.scottishtimes.com)
What has happened?
This morning, scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) base in Cern, near Geneva, have claimed to have discovered a subatomic particle consistent with the Higgs particle.
In other words, they seem to have found evidence of a particle similar enough to Higgs to name this the ‘Higgs discovery’. This may not sound definitive – it is a Higgs-like boson rather than the Higgs boson – but it is certainly big news for science.
The elusive but crucial particle was named after British theoretical physicist Professor Peter Higgs, an emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh (the word ‘boson’ is just the name of a certain kind of subatomic particle).
Director-general of Cern’s European Organization for Nuclear Research, Rolf Heuer, commented: “I would now say I think we have it. We have a discovery – we have observed a new particle consistent with a Higgs boson. But which one? That remains open. It is a historic milestone but it is only the beginning.”
For the last 45 years scientists have been trying to explain how matter gets its mass and it is thought that this kind of particle is key to the explanation. Professor Peter Higgs wiped a tear from his eye as the teams finished their presentations in the Cern auditorium to loud applause and cheers this morning.
Elsewhere today Professor Stephen Hawking said that the discovery has cost him $100, as he placed a bet with a Professor at Michigan University that the Higgs boson would not be found in his lifetime.
What is it?
Essentially, the Higgs boson may explain how everything in the universe is held together.
For about 50 years scientists have been trying to come up with a theory which explains forces of interaction between subatomic particles. They came up with ‘The Standard Model’, which seemed to give a good account of particle behaviour. The Higgs boson plays a crucial part in validating the Standard Model’s theories.
To quote comedian Dara O’ Briain on Twitter this morning “Without Higgs everything would just ping around at the speed of light, not interact, and we couldn’t, y’know, sit on stuff”.
So the Higgs boson may explain what gives things their mass. This doesn’t sound like much, but it would fundamentally answer questions about how the universe exists in the state it’s in. After the big bang, different kinds of particles were bouncing around at the speed of light and the Higgs boson (and associated Higgs field) essentially gave the particles their mass.
Without this, mass particles would have kept flying around and nothing would have been created as we know it, everything would have remained a big messy cosmic soup. Hence the affectionate nickname for the Higgs boson, ‘God particle’.
How did they do it?
The LHC is a large circular tunnel which runs underground in France and Switzerland. It is about 27km long and it is used to accelerate tiny particles towards each other at great speeds.
When two particles collide at such a fast speed, almost the speed of light, it recreates an environment similar to that just after the big bang and this allows physicists to study particles as they were at the creation of the universe.
So, it is a way of creating particle collisions and then analysing the outcome of these collisions, which in turn helps to answer some questions about the laws of physics. Each beam of particles travels around the entire LHC about 12,000 times per second.