What is Higgs boson – and will CERN scientists find the 'God particle'?(Read article summary)
CERN scientists are today successfully crashing particles together at nearly the speed of light. With such high-speed collisions, they hope to finally detect the elusive Higgs boson.
Like followers of God, followers of the Higgs boson act on faith. The Higgs boson has never been observed, and some physicists doubt it even exists.
In an attempt to prove the particle’s existence, physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) rammed protons together today at an energy level of about 7 trillion electron volts at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which straddles the border of Switzerland and France.
Type Higgs boson into Google and you get the search option ‘Higgs boson for dummies' as well as ‘Higgs boson time travel’ and ‘Higgs boson doesn’t want to be found.’
Here's a run-down about the so-called 'God particle.'
What is a boson?
A boson is a sub-atomic particle. The atomic particles are protons, neutrons, and electrons. While the Greek word atom means indivisible, modern scientists found atomic particles divisible into sub-atomic particles. These include quarks, leptons, and bosons. They were only hypothesized and observed in the last century.
This is according to the Standard Model of physics, the most accepted universal theory of everything. (The string theory is a strong contender.)
What is the Higgs boson?
But scientists aren’t entirely sure how these subatomic particles gained mass. They speculate that another boson (or bosons), named after scientist Peter Higgs who helped come up with the idea, imparts mass on other bosons and all quarks and leptons.
Observing the Higgs boson would give credence to the Standard Model and help explain the origin of mass and the four forces of nature – (1) electromagnetism, (2) the strong force (which binds atomic nuclei), (3) the weak force (which governs radioactive decay and some fusion reactions), and (4) gravity. Observing the Higgs boson may also unleash a black hole or anti-matter that will annihilate us all, say a few.
What does this have to do with the Large Hadron Collider?
Scientists at CERN hope to observe the Higgs boson.
The LHC accelerates two particle beams, called hadrons, around a 17-mile ring in opposite directions. The goal is to get the two beams to collide at nearly the speed of light. But that’s hard because the beams are so small, and the scientists don’t expect a collision every time.
If a collision does occur, it could create smaller pieces of matter –particles – a scenario similar to that at the beginning of the universe, giving scientists a unique look at the universe’s origins and at particles never before observed. Particles such as the Higgs boson.
Why is the Higgs boson to hard to detect?
The Higgs boson, however, only exists at high energies - and only lasts for fractions of a second, then decays into other particles. Scientists will be looking for trace patterns of decay that indicate the Higgs has made an appearance.
Einstein famously said E = mc2. If CERN scientists can accelerate particles to the speed of light, they will observe the highest recorded energies, which should allow a look at the Higgs boson.
Back in 2001, CERN's Large Electron Positron (LEP), the precursor to the LHC, found what it believed to be evidence of the elusive particle. Without conclusive data, however, CERN scientists worried the Fermilab collider in the US, just outside Chicago, would observe the particle first. Fermilab got close, but no quantum cigar.
Will the Higgs boson allow time travel?
The Higgs boson itself won’t allow time travel. But the LHC may, say some scientists.
Remember String Theory, the contending grand theory of the universe? It claims that the world is made of tiny vibrating strings. It also claims that there exist 10 dimensions to space time (we currently observe only four: think of a point, a square, a box, and time).
If true, then the LHC may create the high-energy environments that enable particles to jump in and out of these six hidden dimensions.
A recent essay in The New York Times suggests that the Higgs boson itself may be using time travel to prevent itself from being discovered: hence all the delays at Fermilab and CERN.
A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.
What does this have to do with God?
Leon Lederman, the 1988 Nobel prize winner in physics and former director of Fermilab, coined the phrase “the God particle” for the Higgs boson because it would explain what gives nature's fundamental particles mass. But Mr. Lederman wasn't religious. He also famously joked: "Physics isn't a religion. If it were, we'd have a much easier time raising money."
When Moses saw God, according to the Bible’s Book of Numbers, his face was radiant for days. Scientists at CERN eagerly await their own sighting of the so-called God particle.