“This is evidently a discovery of a new particle. If anybody claims otherwise you can tell them they have lost connection with reality.” –Tommaso Dorigo
Indeed the news reports just keep rolling in; this is easily the discovery of the century for physics, so far. I’m not here to recap the scientific discovery itself; I wrote what to expect yesterday, and that prediction was pretty much exactly what happened, with CMS announcing a 4.9-σ discovery and ATLAS announcing a 5.0-σ discovery, of a Higgs boson at 125-126 GeV. You can watch a recording of the press conference announcing the official discovery here, and all observing scientists were thoroughly convinced of both the quality and veracity of the work.
So, the Higgs boson has been discovered! That’s good news. You may have also heard that the Higgs gives mass to everything in the Universe, and that it’s a field.
The odd thing is that all of these things are true, if not intuitive. There are some attempts to explain it simply, but as you can see, even the top ones are not very clear. So let’s give you something to sink your teeth into: How do fundamental particles, including the Higgs boson, get their mass?
The Higgs field is like rain, and there is no place you can go to keep dry. Just like there’s no way to shield yourself from gravitation, there’s no way to hide from the rain that is the Higgs field.
If there were no Higgs field, all the fundamental particles would be like dried-out sponges. Massless, dried-out sponges.
But you can’t keep these sponges out of the rain, and when you can’t stop them from getting wet, they carry that water with them. Some sponges can only carry a little bit of water, while others can expand to many times their original size, carrying very large amounts of water with them once they’re fully expanded.
The most massive fundamental particles are the ones that couple most strongly to the Higgs field, and are like the sponges that expand the most and hold the most water in the rain. Of all the particles I’ve shown you, atop, there are just two that are truly massless, and hence don’t couple to the Higgs at all: the photon and the gluon.
They can be represented by massless sponges, too, except they are water repellent.
So, the Higgs field is rain, all the particles are like various types of sponges (with various absorbancies), and then… then there’s the Higgs Boson. How can the field — the rain — be a particle, too?
If it weren’t raining — if there were no source of water — your intended water balloon would be a sad failure. If there were no Higgs field, there wouldn’t be a Higgs boson; at least, not one of any interest, and not one with any mass.
But the water comes from the Higgs field, and it also fills the balloon that is the Higgs boson: the Higgs field gives mass to all the particles that couple to the Higgs field, including the Higgs boson itself!
Without the water, the balloons and the sponges would be far less interesting, and without the Higgs field, the Higgs boson and all the other fundamental particles would have no intrinsic mass to them.
So now you not only know that we’ve found the Higgs Boson, but how the Higgs field gives mass to all the particles in the Universe, including the newly-discovered boson itself. Just like water can seep its way into almost anything, making it heavier, the Higgs field couples to almost all types of fundamental particles — some more than others — giving them mass.
And the great new find? We’ve been able to create and detect enough Higgs Bosons at the Large Hadron Collider to confidently announce — for the first time — that we’ve discovered it, that we’ve determined its mass (around 133 times the mass of a proton), and that it agrees perfectly with what our understanding of the Universe currently is.
Like I told you yesterday, keep up with the latest Particle Physics news here, and if you want to see/hear me on TV talking about the discovery of the Higgs in all its glory, you get to, tonight!
I’ll be talking about the discovery of the Higgs Boson at CERN later today, July 4th, at 7PM (Pacific Time) live on Portland, OR’s own KGW NewsChannel 8 on The Square: Live @ 7! If you missed my last appearance on the show, talking about the Higgs, you can watch it anytime.
But if you want to catch tonight’s show? Tune in to channel 8 if you’re in Portland, otherwise you can watch the live stream from anywhere in the world at 7PM Pacific at this link. See you then, and enjoy your Higgs-Discovery/Independence Day!