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(Almost) everything you need to know about the Higgs Boson

POSTED AT 03:46 PM ON Jul. 8, 2012 

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With the jubilation and excitement known only to hardcore nerds, The European Organization for Nuclear Research announced Wednesday that the infamous Higgs Boson particle had finally been found. 

And with this momentous discovery came the inevitable air of boredom and confusion from the general public. Now, I’m obviously no scientist. My 10th-grade lab partner and her singed bangs can attest to that. But I’ve always been interested in scientific discoveries, and as such I’d like to do my best here to try and explain what the Higgs Boson is, and why you should care.

To put it very, very simply, the Higgs Boson gives objects their mass. When we think of mass, we tend to think of how much “stuff” an object has to it. The more of this magical “stuff” the object has, the more massive it is.Like most amateur scientific theories, this is completely false. How things actually get their mass is by interacting with the Higgs field, which is just a group of Higgs Boson particles that spans the universe.

The Higgs field is a lot like a lake in that it interacts similarly when things try to move through it. Think of a water skier, skipping across the top of the water with almost no trouble. The water isn’t pulling on him very much, and he can therefore move with ease.

But what happens if he doesn’t have skis? If he were to fall and sink into the water, the water would pull on him more and he would never be able to go as fast as when he had skis.

The Higgs field, like that lake, interacts with whatever moves through it. Much like an electrical charge, if an object have been “positively charged” with mass, the Higgs field will interact much more heavily with it and the object will sink into the field. But if it isn’t positively charged with mass, like light, the particle skips across the Higgs field like our water skier.

Of course, I’ve watered this explanation down ridiculously, but the discovery of Higgs isn’t what’s most important to me.  What I’d really like to answer are the two age-old questions when it comes to scientific discoveries like this: Why should we care and why should we keep spend money on research like this?

Quite simply, because it’s pretty cool.

I’m all for curing diseases and making the world a safer place, but decreasing the bad parts of the world isn’t the only thing we should be doing with our time and money. We are the first species in the history of our planet to have the ability to understand the universe in a complex way.

The only reason the “modern world” is modern is the human desire to break down and understand the world around us. We need to know how it all works, and discoveries like the Higgs Boson only further our understanding and our connection with all that surrounds us.

I think that’s something that needs our funding, as well as our attention. So, will this discovery irrevocably change the course of human history? Will we become a better species for finding the Higgs Boson?

I don’t really know the answers to all this, but I’m excited to find out.

­— kevsjack@indiana.edu

 

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