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So what exactly is this Higgs boson thing anyway? (+video)

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However, he quipped that the second reason was that "the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing."

Indeed, the Higgs boson eluded detection through the construction and shutdown of two expensive high-energy particle colliders built partially for the purpose of detecting it. In these colliders, particles are accelerated through a tunnel and then smashed together, producing an excess of energy that sometimes takes the form of new and exotic particles.

Only the Large Hadron Collider at CERN Laboratory, the most powerful particle collider ever built, turned out to probe energies high enough to generate a Higgs particle, which is roughly 125 times the mass of a proton. [What If You Put Your Hand in the LHC Beam?]

But what does the Higgs particle actually do? How does it, and the Higgs field associated with it, give things mass?

In physics, when particles interact with fields, the interaction must be mediated by a particle. Interactions with the electromagnetic (EM) field, for example, are mediated by photons, or particles of light. When a negatively charged electron is pulled by the EM field toward a positively charged proton, the electron experiences the EM field by absorbing and emitting a constant stream of "virtual photons" — photons that momentarily pop in and out of existence just for the purpose of mediating the particle-field interaction. Furthermore, when the EM field is "excited," meaning its energy is flared up in a certain spot, that flare-up is, itself, a photon — a real one in that case.

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