OMG you guys, did you hear? Scientists think they found the Higgs boson! After more than 10 years of research and 500 trillion particle collisions! The most sought-after particle in physics! It was … uh …. under a pile of laundry, or something! Yay Higgs! Yay bosons! Yay experimental particle physics! Yay for not understanding a single goddamned thing about this newsworthy event, if you're me!
So listen, if you're all savvy to the Higgs hoopla, this is probably not the article for you. But if you've been following all the excitement and secretly thinking, bosonWHATnow? -- I've got a simplified rundown of why this discovery is so awesome, and I've even included a helpful cartoon.
Ideally this cartoon would be narrated by a shirtless Joe Manganiello, but I promise, it's downright fascinating as is.
Okay, so what is the Higgs boson?
Named after Edinburgh University physicist Peter Higgs, the Higgs boson is a hypothetical massive scalar elementary particle predicted to exist by the standard model of particle physics. Make sense?
Um, NO, that doesn't make sense. Say that again, in English.
You mean that thing I just copied and pasted sounds like total gibberish to you TOO? Okay, here's another shot at it: there's a theory that a so-called Higgs energy field exists everywhere in the universe. As particles fly around in this field, they interact with and attract Higgs bosons, which cluster around the particles in varying numbers.
So you might picture the universe like a club. People are dancing around, grooving to Robyn, whatever. Most people can stroll through the dance floor unnoticed, but if, say, Justin Bieber showed up, he would attract a ton of people, and his movement through the room would be slowed because of all the screaming and pants-peeing and stuff. The crowd would cluster around him and would move with him as a group.
In this terrible analogy, the partygoers are like Higgs bosons, the regular folks are like massless particles, and Justin Bieber is a Z boson -- a heavy particle.
Justin Bieber. Right. So why is this important?
The Higgs boson is the last undiscovered particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of matter, and scientists have been hunting it for almost 50 years. It's thought to be the key to understanding why otherwise mass-less elementary particles cause matter to have mass. Why stuff IS. The existence of diversity and life in the universe! The Higgs boson will complete our description of the visible matter in the universe, and of the fundamental processes governing the Big Bang! Cats and dogs, living together -- mass hysteria!
Nice Ghostbusters reference, dork. So why's it called 'the God particle'?
American experimental physicist and Physics Nobel winner Leon Lederman wrote a popular science book on particle physics: The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? But according to Higgs, "He wanted to refer to it as that 'goddamn particle' and his editor wouldn't let him."
What was announced, exactly?
Physicists working at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider said Wednesday that a new subatomic particle has been found that is very likely the elusive Higgs boson. According to the president of the Institute of Physics, "This is the physics version of the discovery of DNA."
In other words: kind of a really big deal.
All right, where's that cartoon you promised?
Here you go. It's a little long, but I swear it does a MUCH better job of explaining all this than I just did. Enjoy:
Have you been following the Higgs boson news?
Image via Amazon