What about that Higgs boson?

The last time I had mentioned the Higgs boson in connection with the naming of the particle. But what is the Higgs boson? Particle physics is hard to comprehend because it deals with the extremely small. We, middle-sized creatures, are not equipped to comprehend the infinitesimally small or the infinitely large. Moreover, them itty-bitty things lie in the domain of quantum mechanics — which according to Feynman, if you believe you understand QM then it means that you actually don’t. QM is useful but incomprehensible. Thus, human comprehension is not a precondition for human utility. Also, although there’s little utility in it, attempting to comprehend advances in high energy physics can be fun. So here’s something just for fun.

As it happens, the folks at CERN announced on July 4th that they may have, using the LHC, discovered a particle that somewhat answers to the name Higgs boson. If not the actual particle, they suspect that they may have the Higgs boson’s close relative. Scientists are by nature generally cautious and their statements are circumspect (somewhat like good economists, who as you well know make their arguments by covering all bases, “On the one hand blah, blah and blah, but on the other hand, blah blah blah.”) So they did not actually claim that they have discovered the Higgs boson but that they think they are somewhat close to finding that little critter. Of course, that did not stop commentators and journalists from making breathless claims that the Hb has been found. Anyway, here are a few good videos that do a pretty good job of explaining what it is.

Part 1. The Higgs boson

Part 2. What is mass?

There’s more where that came from over at Minute Physics.

If you still have questions about the Higgs boson that you are afraid to ask, click on over to this article in the New York Times. It clarifies matters such as:

Q. What exactly is a Higgs boson, and why all this fuss?

A. Essentially, it’s an eentsy-teensy-weensy particle — we’re talking small here — that contains the answers to how the universe came about, including whether God was involved. As for the “fuss,” the CERN laboratory in Geneva, where the particle was discovered, spent $10 billion on its Large Hadron Collider. Over the last two years, 800 trillion (give or take) proton-proton collisions have been performed, which works out to — what? — maybe not so much per collision, but 10 billion is still 10 billion. For that kind of dough, you expect more bang for your buck than, “Ja, ja, we’re working on it, go away!” Physicists — spare me.

Isn’t the web fun, the great big classroom in the clouds?

Author: Atanu Dey


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