Getting to the bottom of the Higgs boson

As the Large Hadron Collider at CERN continues probing the high-energy frontier of physics, a new feature of its greatest discovery so far has come into view

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ATLAS data on the decay of the Higgs boson to bottom quarks Illustration: ATLAS/CERN

In high-energy particle collisions we study the smallest known constituents of matter. According to our best knowledge of physics, these constituents have mass only because of the way they interact with a unique quantity which permeates all of space. This quantity, like practically everything else in the strange world of the very small, is a quantum field.

That is not what makes this quantity unique. Quantum fields are all over the place. The light by which you are reading this text is a wiggling quantum field (an electromagnetic field, in that case). What makes the field involved in giving mass to particles unique is precisely the fact that it exists everywhere. It is present even in the lowest energy, emptiest vacuum. In fact, unlike any other quantum field, if you wanted to get rid of this field in a region of space, you would have to add energy, not remove it.

The wiggles in this mass-endowing field are called Higgs bosons, after one of the three theorists (Brout and Englert being the other two) who first postulated this theory, in the early 1960s. Five years ago, in 2012, the Higgs boson was discovered in high-energy collisions of protons in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, demonstrating that the essentials of this theory of mass were correct.

So much for the recap. Last week we learned something new about the Higgs boson.

Read more at  the Guardian.

About Jon Butterworth

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