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Higgs Boson

The Significance Of Finding The God Particle

By James Donahue

After spending 15 years and billions of dollars building that massive 17-mile-long underground machine called the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, researchers have announced that they found what they were looking for . . . a Higgs Boson, or in more vernacular terms: the illusive God Particle.

This may not sound too important to the average lay person, but the discovery lies on the fringe of being one of the most important scientific discoveries of our time. It means that science can at last find an explanation for solid matter in the strange world that we live in.

The Higgs Boson is named for Peter Higgs, a physicist at the University of Edinburgh and one of the scientists that theorized its existence.

Understanding what a Higgs Boson is requires us to examine the relatively new world of quantum physics. . . or as they speak of it at the Geneva site . . . particle physics. It is the strange stuff found within the extremely minute world that exists at the atomic level.

Since the days when scientists learned how to smash atoms to make bombs, there has been a quest to explore the heart of matter which we understand is comprised of atoms and particles. From basic high school physics we know that an atom is a very small and basic unit within matter. It consists of a central nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. What is so amazing is that this entire configuration reminds us of planets circling a sun within a solar system. The design is exactly the same.

What has perplexed researchers for years has been the fact that a cluster of atoms can bind together to form a molecule, and molecules appear to be the building blocks of solid objects within our world, including ourselves. This is what is known as matter.

But until the God Particle was found, the existence of matter did not appear to make sense. When studied at an atomic level, researchers realized that a lot of empty space exists not only within the atoms, but all around them. All matter contains more empty space than it does solid substance. How could this be? Is the world we perceive only the creation of our minds?

Physicists have been scratching their heads over this question for years. While they understood matter, they could not determine why matter had mass. In other words, why is it that we can sit comfortably in a chair on the floor of a house without falling through to the ground?

To try to explain this mystery, scientists erected a new concept of how things are put together at an extreme molecular level. This now is the realm of particle physics. The researchers identified something called the quark, which is an elementary particle and thus a fundamental element within matter.

And here is where things get complicated. According to the theory of particle physics, quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons. Protons and neutrons are classified as hadrons. But physicists believe that other hadrons exist called mesons and baryons. Within mesons are kaons and pions.

In quantum physics there is something called the Standard Model. Within this model there are six types of quarks, six types of things called leptons and four things called bosons. Bosons are described as composite particles within the Standard Model. For this article, attempting to describe them any farther, or explain what leptons are, would serve little purpose.

The people swimming around in the strange world of quantum physics dreamed up the concept of the Higgs Boson as a way to try to explain how matter has mass. Higgs and his fellow scientists reason that something yet unseen makes up the glue that holds these particles together and turns matter into mass. And whatever that thing is, it exists throughout the Universe. Thus they reason there has to be a particle or boson that carries some kind of magnetic field, known as the Higgs Field. As other particles pass through the Higgs field, they are drawn together until the particle gains mass.

By now you may have noticed a link between the composite of particles known as hadrons and the machine scientists were working so hard to get running near the Swiss/French border. They appropriately call it the Hadron Collider because they used it to smash these tiny particles together after sending them at nearly the speed of light in opposite directions through their elaborate race track.

They built this machine to recreate the Big Bang and test the long debated theory of how the universe was formed. According to this theory, before the Big Bang the universe was extremely small and matter existed only as free quarks. Once the explosion occurred it is believed that there was rapid inflation, quarks combined into hadrons, the forces separated, atoms formed as matter, and matter condensed into stars and galaxies were formed.

The CERN scientists wanted to simulate conditions that existed within a minute fraction of a second after the Big Bang. They used the collider to smash hadrons and then study what happens.

There were, of course, skeptics that worried about such experimentation. Some believed smashing hadrons might trigger energies with the potential of destroying the world as we know it. Others conceived the possibility that simulating the Big Bang might even create tiny black holes that would begin to swallow everything around them until they destroyed the world.

As far as we know, the experiments were performed successfully, after several expensive delays. And the scientists are now saying that they have, indeed, created and identified a true Higgs Boson.

This was first observed in July, 2012, but only recently determined to be a true Higgs Boson.

So where does science go from here with this new information? The researchers say it merely opens a whole new field of research that will be going on for years. They say they have a lot to learn about this particle and just what its implications are.

At least now they can say there is a reason we are not falling through our chairs and floors for lack of substance.