Saturday, July 14, 2012


PhotonQ-Closing In to Higgs Boson
PhotonQ-Closing In to Higgs Boson (Photo credit: PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE)
Unhappy with your weight? Blame it on the Higgs Boson.

On June 6, 2012, at a “news conference” event held at the Aspen Center for Physics, Michigan State University professor, Elizabeth Simmons made that comment while announcing that physicists at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics run by CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research ) have finally found experimental evidence of  the existence of the long-sought elementary subatomic particle, the Higgs Boson.

The timing of this momentous discovery and its official announcement was serendipitous for the Aspen Center for Physics which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer. For the last 50 years, physicists from around the world have gathered in Aspen to discuss theoretical physics to increase their understanding of it and to disseminate this information to the public. 

Just last February, Rolf Heuer, Director General, CERN (LHC), spoke about this very Higgs Boson at one of the Maggie and Nick DeWolf 2012 Winter Physics Lectures in Aspen. In the “Science and Our Future” event, July 1, 2012, held at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, Brian Greene, Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Columbia University, discussed the importance of this discovery.

What is the Higgs Boson?

Physicists have been searching for the Higgs Boson since it was first proposed in the 1960’s as a missing piece in the Standard Model of particle physics.  This theory attempts to explain how the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear forces interact with elementary subatomic particles in the universe. -

Essentially, the Higgs Boson is believed to be the particle that gives other sub-atomic particles their mass.

Because of this, it has been referred to as the “God Particle”.  Despite this expression of some sort of religious significance, this label, according to Peter Higgs, himself, “…is actually a politeness-corrupted version of "Goddam Particle"—so called because the goddam particle was so difficult to find.” -

How does the Higgs Boson do it?

The explanation of exactly how the Higgs Boson imparts mass to other particles is of course quite complicated, but according to a recent article on

… Scientists think that Higgs bosons form an invisible sea, kind of like a molasses in space. Different particles, like electrons and neutrons, feel a different amount of drag when traveling through the molasses. This drag gives each particle in space a unique mass.” -

I’ve heard or read several analogies of how the Higgs field gives mass to other particles, but the following is the one I can visualize the best (from

“A well-known scientist walks into the room and causes a bit of a stir - attracting admirers with each step and interacting strongly with them - signing autographs and stopping to chat.

As she becomes surrounded by admiring fans, she finds it harder to move across the room - in this analogy, she acquires mass due to the "field" of fans, with each fan acting like a single Higgs boson.

If a less popular scientist enters the room, only a small crowd gathers, with no-one clamouring for attention. He finds it easier to move across the room - by analogy, his interaction with the bosons is lower, and so he has a lower mass.”

Summarizing the process, Dr. Simmons suggested that the Higgs particle “allows energy to be packaged as mass.”

How might this discovery impact us?
Now, given all this heady information, why is this discovery important to us? In addition  to giving all of our body particles mass (and therefore, weight), Dr. Simmons, gave several other, shall we say, more practical reasons why the general public might find the discovery to be relevant as well.

Primarily, she discussed how much of our everyday useful technology has come from attempting to prove experimentally the concepts of theoretical physics and from the technologies and techniques developed in these quests.

Notable examples of this are GPS systems and computer technologies that rely on the principles of general relativity which Albert Einstein theorized several years before the concept was proved experimentally and well before the related technology was developed.

A current example, related directly to the design and construction of the Large Hadron Collider which was used to detect the Higgs Boson, was the need for and production of  the super-magnets used to accelerate the protons fast enough to produce the high-energy collisions required to “separate” the Higgs from other particles. 

These types of magnets are used in the operation of magnetic levitation trains and although the “Maglev” trains have been around for several years now, better, stronger magnets would conceivably make them even better.

So, if you don’t like your weight, maybe you can blame some of it on sub-atomic particles. Maybe you can blame some of it on God. But, the rest is up to you; and in the meantime, you can look forward to some of the practical applications that will likely result from the quest for and the discovery and understanding of the Higgs Boson.
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