Higgs Boson: Newest Scapegoat for Obesity?
Nature & Weather
By Amy Gernon
Published: July 11 2012
This week's announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson has left many wondering what it actually is.
Gotcha. Actually, its worth taking the time here to note the difference between mass and weight, at least once you leave Earth. But, let’s get to the point -- why the Higgs Boson is is important.
So, Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons aside, here’s the deal. In 1964 a theoretical physicist by the name of Peter Higgs made waves among people who could understand his proposal of broken symmetry in electroweak theory, that is, a vacuum of space (having the lowest possible energy) isn’t entirely empty. Just like our gravitational field causes objects to fall at 9.81 meters per second squared, or the magnetic field causes compasses to align with magnetic north, the Higgs Field explains the attraction between particles. The important part of that proposal, in plain old English, is its explanation mass (the relationship between force and acceleration) in elementary particles (perhaps you’ve heard of a quark?).
That was 48 years ago. In the meantime, a wonderful, gigantic and hugely expensive instrument, known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was developed by an international team of physicists at CERN. CERN began in the 1950’s as the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and is today known as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics. The LHC is a particle accelerator that allows physicists to study the smallest known subatomic particles. Hadrons, another kind of subatomic particle, in this case protons and lead ions, were made to travel in opposite directions within a circular accelerator. Ultimately, this motion recreates the conditions known to exist just after the Big Bang about 13.75 billion years ago. What followed was the conversion of energy into a variety of subatomic particles, including protons, neutrons and electrons. We’ve known for a while that these particles have mass, and we’ve been able to measure it -- Periodic Table of Elements. What was unknown was what gave these particles mass in the first place.
The Higgs Boson has a relatively large mass, meaning it requires a lot of energy to produce, hence the need for the LHC. Furthermore, the articles exist for less than a septillionth of a second -- (1 x 10^24) -- making it extremely tricky to record. And that is exactly what makes the discovery of the Higgs Boson, which was announced last week, a huge development fifty years in the making. The Standard Model of particle physics, although an incomplete theory, has been widely accepted for decades, since the discoveries of the bottom quark in 1970, the top quark in 1995 and the tau neutrino in 2000. Having the existence of the Higgs Boson on record only makes it all the more sweeter, and while closing the door on three decades of some of the world’s most expensive research, opens new pathways for scientific research.
Where does the discovery leave scientists? More investigation needs to be conducted in order to confirm the discovery, but ultimately could lead to a more complete understanding of the 96 percent of the universe that remains obscure -- dark matter and dark energy. Didn’t you know that we can only see about four percent of the Universe? That sure makes the stack of unwashed dishes, the mess in the closet you never use and the overflowing garbage can seem a lot less substantial.
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