Electroweak symmetry breaking at the Royal Institution

A Royal Institution “Friday evening discourse” by me. Featuring recent Higgs search results, cutting-edge demonstrations and a bow tie

A brief blog to advertise this:

It’s a “Friday Evening Discourse” by me at the Royal Institution, as filmed by the Ri Channel, where you can also find Carl Sagan being very 70s and motivational in his Christmas lectures.

I remember those, of course. Also I have been a bit of a Michael Faraday fan for a while, to the extent that I once subverted a whole Eng. Lit. O level project on biography in order to learn about Faraday and (mainly) his experiments with electromagnetism. Since Faraday began the discourses, and Sagan and Faraday both lectured in that same theatre, I was honoured and nervous to be able to follow in their footsteps*.

The Ri even provided a good demonstration of spontaneous symmetry breaking – hang in there past the rubber ball on a string until you get to the Niodinium and the blowtorch. Spontaneous symmetry breaking is what the Higgs (or more correctly Brout-Englert-Higgs) mechanism does. It is a way of breaking the symmetry between the weak and electromagnetic forces in everyday life, while leaving the symmetry intact in the underlying theory. This is an important thing to do, and along the way it allows particles to acquire mass.

I didn’t even mind wearing a bow tie. Bow ties are a terrible cliche for scientists (sorry Heinz). My then girlfriend bought me a silk paisley bowtie for my birthday once. I was disgusted. But I think it was some kind of test: I took it back to the shop, got the money, and bought two albums (on tape, Happy Mondays and the Beautiful South, so you can see how long ago this was). She was very understanding, and is now my wife so I guess that’s ok.

Anyway, with a dinner jacket bow ties are acceptable, even if I can’t quite tie one properly.

This is a ramble. All I meant was, the video is linked above, if you’re interested.

* I now have a little book, much better than my project and signed by the author (thank you Frank James).

Also at the Guardian.

About Jon Butterworth

UCL Physics prof, works on LHC, writes (books, Cosmic Shambles and elsewhere). Citizen of England, UK, Europe & Nowhere, apparently.
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