4th July 2012.
This is a day that will always be inscribed in every particle physicists minds and hearts. This day is their New year, their Christmas, their Carnival of rio de janairo, and their Thanksgiving day. This was the day-the only day- particle physics competed uncontrollably with incessant politics and futile media gossip to snatch away the front page of every a-z newspaper around the globe. The day a baby was discovered.. after its 48 year birth.
The Higgs Boson Particle.
The theory of this particle was known to be formulated in 1964, but its discovery happened much, much later in 2012 thanks to the world class renowned CERN(European organization for Nuclear Research) supercollider in Europe. Scientists took pride to announce that they had found a particle that acted very close, like a twin brother, to the higgs boson.
So, fundamentally, what is the higgs boson particle?
Its just another one of those subatomic particles in an atom. Initially, scientists discovered atom and exclaimed ‘Atom is the most fundamental unit!’. But all that went to hell when J.J.Thompson marched in with his famous ‘Gold Foil Experiment’ and discovered a negative entity named ‘electron’. Slowly the atom was hacked to pieces by ingenious scientists around the world and they were all presented with the esteemed Nobel Prize. But this specific particle, Higgs boson, gained more fame than the others. That’s prejudice. That’s just not fair, is it?
But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll know why.
Why copious amount of pampering is given to this particle by all the particle physicists?
Its because there is a possibility this puny particle is responsible for all the mass present in our universe. Not just that, it also bears the title of unifying the electromagnetic and weak forces. Scientists aren’t fools. They wont spend 10 billion dollars on a ‘hide and seek’ experiment unless its important. For the people who find this tiny gem fascinating, keep reading.
In order to truly and completely understand about the particle, though, we need to look at one of the most profound theories in physics- The Standard Model- which explains the way in which our mysterious cosmos works. This is a tough ordeal for all physicists, but they rose up to the bar, and discovered innumerable subatomic particles such as electrons, protons, neutrons, and straining to look even deeper under the microscope we finally found quarks and leptons too. This model came into existence in the early 1970’s and strived its best to unify three of the four fundamental forces. Let me give you a short account of the basic particles and forces.
All the matter in this universe, me, you(whoever’s reading), everyone else, a table, a car, etc is made up of two prominent elementary groups- Quarks and Leptons. Both the group contains 6 sub-particles. These sub-particles are intertwined in groups of two, called ‘generations’. Iam not gonna go into the concept of the types of generations, google it here. So, thats enough about the particles.
Coming to the forces, repeating my earlier statement, there are 4 forces- Strong, Weak, Electromagnetic and of course the force because of which your sitting comfortably in a chair in front of your computer right now, Gravitational. The names given to these forces are quite amusing.
Gravity is the weakest force of all but expands over infinite range.
Electromagnetic force also has an infinite range,but its stronger than gravity.
Weak force is NOT the weakest force, its stronger than gravity.
Thankfully, this satire of naming ends with Strong force being the strongest of all.
Now, Okay there are four forces. Are they related in any way? And the answer to that is single word: Boson. Each force is related to a boson, and the interaction between the forces takes place through this boson. Well, Our job’s done. Each force is related. The physicists can live happily ever after.
These baffling bosons relate only three of the four forces. And it doesn’t explain how the particles actually get their mass. Without mass, all the atoms will simply float around. This model is by far the best and most accepted one. But, until it explains all the mysteries concealed in an atom, physicists just can’t call it a day yet. And there were other screaming questions like ‘What is dark matter?’, ‘What is dark energy?’. Particle physics is like a back-breaking jigsaw puzzle. Even with the best minds on earth, this puzzle can’t be completed if a several pieces are missing! And one of those pieces, which was safely and happile hidden in a dark corner in the atom was dragged out and displayed to the world as higgs boson.
The discovery of this particle gave additional validity and confirmation to The Standard Model, and it was the only missing piece in the model. Abundant significance was given to this particle as it helped in unifying the electromagnetic and weak forces. It is the building block of the universe. This particle is the supplier of mass for the two basic particles(Quarks and leptons), and intun all the matter in the world. This particle gives rise to a higgs field, which is critical to explain why particles have mass. Apparently, this field is everywhere in our cosmo, and when elementary particles zoom through this field, higss boson crowds around it to give a welcome, and they attain mass! Imagine the universe like a big splendid party. This party is composed of unknown people. Some people move around unnoticed. Whereas popular people attract a crowd (Higgs bosons) and thus move a little slowly.
But there are many discrepancies. This higgs field- although explains a lot about how the elementary particles attain their mass- is not the universal giver of mass. It doesn’t give mass to dark matter and the gigantic malicious black holes, and adding in more limitations, doesn’t give mass to the higgs particle. Also, it doesn’t completely explain the notion on gravity. Gravity acts not only on quarks, leptons, etc but even on black holes and dark matter(A whole other topic!). And finally, the puzzlement reached its peak when the discovered higgs boson-like particle was much, much lighter than it should have been, given that it gives mass to other particles.
At the end of the day, more and more mysteries are still yet to be unraveled, more particles are yet to be dragged out of its shell, more expensive and extravagant experiments are still yet to performed. Physicists are a long way from achieving the utopia of complete understanding of the cosmo. But this discovery enabled them to take a huge stride in that path.
They are already off to unraveling another mystery called ‘supersymmetry‘.