Understanding the Higgs Boson

Understanding the Higgs Boson

Ghazal Darougheh-Daftar explains the ‘God Particle’

In order to understand what the Higgs Boson is, we need to consider one of the grand theories describing how the cosmos works: the Standard Model. This model states that our entire universe is made up of twelve different matter particles and four forces. The key prediction of the Standard Model is that a background field pervades all of space, giving everything a mass – which was tested and confirmed to be the Higgs Boson in 2012.

The Higgs Boson used to be described as the ‘’missing piece of the Standard-Model’’. Its discovery proves the existence of the Higgs field, without which the universe would have no matter as we know it. Particles would simply float around and everything would be radioactive.

Physicists think of Higgs Boson as a transmitter of mass itself, with particles interacting differently within this field. The best way to understand this interaction is through an analogy with a field of snow.

Imagine the Higgs field as an infinite, flat and featureless field of snow that extends throughout all the space. Now consider yourself as a skier who does not sink into the snow, but rather glides over the snow surface very fast. This process can be compared to a particle that does not interact with Higgs field and is therefore massless and travels at the speed of light. However, imagine that you only have snow shoes – now you sink into the Higgs snow field and have less speed. This new state can be compared to a particle with a mass that is connecting and interacting with the Higgs snow field. Now if you only wore boots, you would sink deeply into the Higgs snow field and proceed only very slowly. This would be like a particle with a big mass as it couples with Higgs.

But where does the Higgs Boson come in? Let’s think about what the snow field is made up of: snowflakes. In the same way, the Higgs field is made up of little quanta called Higgs Bosons, which it uses to continuously interact with other particles. As particles pass through the field, they couple with Higgs Boson and become slower. We can say that the greater the mass is, the stronger the particle couples to Higgs and, consequently, the slower it travels.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland collides two beams of high-speed protons so that the particles shatter. This generates Higgs Boson and an enormous array of debris. Many particles that are produced are unstable and decay into other particles that may again decay further. LHC may not observe the original particles at all, but instead the detectable collection of particles from their decays that may last long enough to be detected. The Higgs particle is unstable: for every ten billion collisions of particles inside the machine, only one is likely to produce a Higgs boson, which will instantly decay into smaller component particles.

The hunt for the Higgs Boson has been a huge scientific triumph. However, much more data is required to investigate the particle’s properties and establish whether the properties of the new particle imply the existence of physics beyond the Standard Model.


Featured image credit: CERN

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