Science Feature: The Higgs For Dummies

Posted Monday, July 16th, 2012 11:00 am GMT -4 by

confused personOn July 4th it was announced by CERN in Geneva that the Higgs boson has finally been discovered. Sciencefiction.com can now answer your most important questions.

1. Will the Higgs boson help me lose weight?

No.

2. I like the sound of this Higgs. Can I buy one for my friend?

The Large Hadron Collider cost $9.6 billion and produces ten Higgs bosons a day. Expect to pay at least $100,000 per boson plus you’ll need to make your own arrangements for delivery as it only lasts for 10-25 seconds.

3. Is a Black Hole full of Higgs Bosons?

Over to little Saya to answer this one. Saya is President of her junior Physics club.

‘No silly! A black hole’s mass is a geometric feature of its spacetime curvature. General Relativity tells you how to unite mass, energy, gravity, spacetime geometry and dynamics. Mass is an input parameter and General Relativity does not tell you where it comes from. By contrast, the coupling of electrons, quarks and so on to the Higgs field is precisely where their mass comes from.’

‘Thank you Saya, how old are you?’

‘Ten.’

4. Where could I find this Higgs field? I swear I never saw one before.

Step on the scales, what do you see? Weight, right? Well, if all the particles in your body weren’t interacting with the Higgs field where you are right now, every bit of you would be weightless. Not so good, as your body would explode in all directions at the speed of light.

5. I read a science fiction story once where they changed the mass of the spaceship so it could go real fast. Is NASA going to use the Higgs like when it made those non-stick frying pans?

No-one knows how to predict or engineer the strength of the coupling of matter to the Higgs field. If the coupling of electrons was less, then quantum mechanics tells us that the size of atoms would balloon. That would screw around with all the stuff holding molecules together: it might get ugly.

Further Reading

1. Prof. Matt Strassler’s Why the Higgs Particle Matters is a good introduction to what all this Higgs stuff is about.

2. The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe by Professor Frank Close tells the story of how and why the Higgs mechanism was developed within theoretical physics by Peter Higgs and others – Brout, Englert, Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble – and how it came to be discovered in nature.