The discovery of the Higgs Boson particle by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, cracked a new perspective into how we fundamentally understand the physical world.
What exactly is the Higgs Boson particle?
To understand it, we’ll first ask ourselves “What is mass?” Mass, basically (I’m no physicist, so please forgive the crude explanations), is when you push on an object and you feel resistance from that object as you push it. It’s what makes up something, the amount of matter that constitutes any given object. This, then logically begs the question: “Where does this mass come from?” To which the answer is, obviously, a bunch of different things. Electrons, protons, and a whole slue of sub-atomic particles. The next question is, “Where does the mass of protons and electrons and so forth come from?” And in that question, we get to what exactly the Higgs Boson particle is.
In order to visualize what exactly the Higgs Boson is, imagine that the world is surrounded by an invisible molasses. When electrons, quarks and other sub atomic particles move through space, they pass through this invisible molasses, experiencing resistance. The measure of this resistance would give us the mass of these subatomic particles. This molasses is, essentially, what is known as the Higgs Field. The Higgs Field is made up of Higgs Boson particles. Now, that analogy isn’t perfect, so I’ll have to mention that unlike molasses, the Higgs Field doesn’t not slow sub atomic particles due to friction.
I’m sorry, what? An invisible field
Exactly. For a long time, this theory was thought to be another wild theory on something that humans can’t see with their own eyes. Most of the scientific community laughed off the notion that there was a type of field that was imperceptible to humans. For a long time, no one knew how to even test such a crazy idea, until October 8th, 2013. A group of scientists decided to speed up sub atomic particles to the speed of light, and smash them together.
The idea behind it is that when you smash something together at the speed of light, space—for lack of a better phrase—jiggles a little. When space jiggles, you should be able to see the Higgs Field jiggles as a result. With the right amount of jiggling, a particle is bound to pop off. Really, the big deal is that the chances of a Higgs particle bouncing off is near one in a trillion. As you can see, a lot of scientist thought that even trying something with such infinitesimal chances was a waste of time and resources. You wouldn’t be alone in that, a lot of scientists ridiculed this notion.
It all changed though, and eventually, against all odds, one of these particles reared its impossible head. This confirmation is important, because is serves to answer one of the most basic questions about human understanding of existence. Based on what the results of this experiment show, we can now begin to understand what, exactly, gives sub atomic particles their mass and how the universe was formed.
This is great, but why should I care?
While you might not be a physicist, the discovery of the Higgs Boson is a classic story of the underdog. When something is right, when it is true, fighting for it against all odds is the only thing that matters. It might take half a trillion tries, but it’s worth it. This lesson is way more important than the discovery of some trivial sub atomic particle. What we can learn in the story of the discovery of the Higgs Boson pushes beyond the findings of a complex physical question. While it might not impact your life to know that there are even tinier particles than atoms, it might behoove you to know that despite what anyone might be telling you, your one idea, thought, or personal project is one step away from fruition.