Looking Beyond the Garden: The Higgs BosonBy Larry Rettig (LarryR) on May 13, 2013
|This is the third in a series of articles looking beyond my garden to see nature's bigger picture. In the first article, "Looking Beyond the Garden: A Convinced Gardener Considers Climate Change," I focused on the planet Earth and one of the ways in which its atmosphere is affected by what goes on here. In the second article I ventured beyond our atmosphere into outer space to consider some of the fantastic discoveries made by modern physics. In the current article I will consider the Higgs boson and the significance of its discovery.|
arlier this year there was great jubilation in the world of particle physics—and in the field of physics in general—when the existence of the Higgs boson was confirmed as a result of experiments conducted in the CERN Large Hadron Collider. More about the Collider below.
So what is the Higgs boson? A boson is an elementary particle associated with those forces of the standard model in physics that I mentioned in my second article: electromagnetic force, strong force, and weak force. (Standard model is the name given to a theory that attempts to identify and explain the fundamental particles that make the Universe what it is.)
The confirmation of the existence of the boson called Higgs had been elusive for decades, because it is extremely unstable, morphing into other particles almost immediately after its formation. Its existence is important because it is the final particle of the standard model to be empirically confirmed and because it is thought to be fundamental to the formation of mass in the Universe. Its discovery also brings us closer to the moment of the Big Bang. In fact, there is a possibility that a Higgs boson caused the Big Bang.
And why is this boson called Higgs? It's named after Peter Higgs, who, along with five other physicists, proposed the existence of such a particle in 1964. Higgs is a
It has also been called "the God particle." This unfortunate nickname was dreamed up by the news media to grab readers' attention, much to the dismay of many physicists and religious leaders. Admittedly, to describe the Higgs boson properly requires a lot of scientific detail that would be too technical for the average reader or viewer, including yours truly. But to call this boson the God particle is misleading and sensationalistic.
The CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC)
CERN is an acronym for the French Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, in English the European Organization for Nuclear Research. It was founded in 1952 with a mandate to establish a world-class fundamental physics research effort in Europe. The stellar achievement of this effort has been the design and construction of the LHC.
Here is how CERN describes the Collider:
More collider attributes:
In contrast to the complexity of the machine, the principle behind it is quite simple. First, two beams of proton particles are fired along two pathways. One pathway goes clockwise, the other counterclockwise. Both beams are accelerated to a speed approaching that of light. Then the beams are directed toward each other and researchers observe what happens in the resulting collision.
So what happens when the proton particles collide? A proton is a type of hadron (hence the name of the Collider) made up of quarks. When two protons collide at the huge energies generated by the LHC, they break apart into a shower of all kinds of particles, not only into quarks (see illustration at the beginning of this article). These particles may be the expected ones that usual matter is made of, but some are also ones that only existed right after the Big Bang and only for an infinitesimal instant. One of those particles is the Higgs boson. Further study of these collisions is expected to tell us more about what the Universe is made of and how it began. ☼
All images are courtesy of wikipedia.org and used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
Articles already published in this series:
What caused the Big Bang and what came before it? The final article in this series will discuss this interesting and perplexing question.
|"An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and it’s still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Our garden, named Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, is private and is listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s by my ancestors. My latest book, Gardening the Amana Way, is available at Amazon.com.|
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