"We are made of star-stuff," Carl Sagan once enthused. Everything you know, even yourself, is made of the same basic components.
None of these particles had any mass at the start of the universe; they all moved at the speed of light. It is only because particles acquired their mass from a fundamental field linked to the Higgs boson that stars, planets, and life form become possible.
Or, as the theory goes, this idea recieved some serious empirical support when the Higgs boson particle was discovered at CERN in 2012, finally proving that this field has matter, well mass.
In the world of physics, this was a huge deal! The reason for this is that the Standard Model (more on that later) includes all 17 elementary particles as well as three of the four fundamental forces that make up our universe.
These are, in fact, the universe's LEGO bricks! Cependant, they would not be possible without the so-called Higgs boson.
What is it, anyway? Let's find out.
Peter Higgs, an English physicist, submitted a paper to a scientific journal in 1964 that claimed that all of space is filled with a field, which became known as the Higgs field, that imparts mass to objects. Accordingly, mass is defined as a body of matter's resistance to a change in speed or position upon the application of force.
The notion of a field involving mass appeared absurd to several prominent scientists at the time.
Hawking put a $100 bet with physicist Gordon Kane that physicists would not discover the Higgs boson in 2012. Then, he lost his bet and said the discovery made physics more interesting.
Not only had he lost his chance, but his discovery prompted him to reach a very dangerous conclusion about the particle. He explained in a book of essays and discussions called "Starmus," that the particle might one day bring about the end of the universe as we know it.
Other scientists than Hawking agree with this. The idea of a Higgs boson doomsday has been around for a while. It claims that a quantum fluctuation might create a vacuum "bubble" that will travel through space and destroy the universe. However, scientists don't believe this will happen anytime soon.
But why? And how?
The Higgs field is a bit like water.
Higgs' paper was initially rejected by the scientific journal, but he changed it with the important twist that his theory predicted the existence of a heavy boson.
Scientists discovered that the weak force and the electromagnetic force are very close in nature. They developed the basic equations of a unified theory which suggested that electricity, magnetism, light, and certain types of radioactivity are all manifestations of a single force known as the electroweak force. This force is carried by the photon and theWandZbosons.
Theorists Robert Brout, Francois Englert, and Peter Higgs proposed that the W and Z bosons interact with a force called the "Higgs field." The Higgs field gives mass to particles exchanged in weak interactions but not to photons exchanged in electromagnetic interactions.
Other physicists grew to realize that Higgs' hypothesis fit perfectly with the Standard Model's equations. The only problem was that there was no experimental evidence to support the theory. If the Higgs field existed, it should involve a gauge boson (a force-carrier particle that mediates or transmits the electromagnetic force), which was called the Higgs boson, and physicists' calculations showed that the Higgs boson should be quite large and decay almost immediately.
How do you get such a massive and ephemeral particle to appear? It would take another 30 years before particle colliders, detectors, and computers could be created capable of looking for Higgs bosons.
The Large Hadron Collider is the answer.
What is the Standard Model in physics?
The Standard Model began to form in 1897, when J.J. Thomson, an English physicist, discovered the electron, and it wasn't considered "complete" until 2012, when the Higgs boson was discovered.
Our universe is made up of six quarks and six leptons, according to the above chart. These are the particles that make up atoms, quarks within protons and neutrons, and electrons surrounding the nuclei.
Electromagnetism, the strong force, the weak force, and gravity are four fundamental forces at work in our universe. Unfortunately, the Standard Model does not account for gravity (if indeed it is a real force), so for the time being, we'll have to ignore it.
The remaining three forces are caused by the exchange of "force-carrier" particles, or gauge bosons. Particles transfer discrete amounts of energy by exchanging bosons with each other. Each fundamental force has its own boson.
The Electromagnetic Force is transmitted between electrically charged particles by the photon, which is massless. The Weak Force is transmitted between quarks and leptons by the W+, W, and Z gauge bosons, which are large particles. The Z boson is more massive than the W.
Eight gluons, which are massless, are transmitted between quarks. Color-charged particles exchange gluons in strong interactions. Two quarks can exchange gluons and create a very strong color field that binds the quarks together.
The Higgs boson is standing by itself on the far right side of the Standard Model chart, like a king or queen. It may not be farfetched to refer to it as "the God Particle." According to Lederman, the term "if the Universe is the Answer," is the answer.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which was launched in September 2008, is now housed at CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research. It is a 17-mile (27.35 km) ring that runs primarily beneath Geneva, Switzerland, and it relies on around 9,000 superconducting magnets to keep millions of protons circling the ring in both directions at about the speed of light.
The two proton beams collide at specific points along the ring and produce sprays of particles that are observed by enormous detectors. On July 4, 2012 physicists around the world gathered in meeting rooms to hear and see a press conference being given at CERN.
The purpose of the press conference was to publicize the Higgs boson, and in the audience was 83-year-old Peter Higgs. The video of Higgs taking out his handkerchief and wiping his eyes became viral.
Peter Higgs, along with Francois Englert, was presented with a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013, a year after the discovery of the Higgs boson. On the day of the Nobel announcement, Higgs went to the store and it was only when he bumped into one of his neighbors that he discovered the prize.
The Higgs field is unchanging from other fields, such as electromagnetic or gravitational fields, in that it is continuous. The strength of an electromagnetic field waxes and wanes depending on the distance. The strength of a gravitational field is also determined by distance stand next to a black hole and you'll experience a much stronger gravitational field than you would experience on Earth.
The Higgs field appears to be the same everywhere you go in the universe, and it appears to be a fundamental component of space-time's fabric. When elementary particles interact with the Higgs field, it contains that mass in the form of energy.
The fundamental angular momentum of an elementary particle is related to its behavior. For example, bosons have an integer spin (0, 1, 2, etc.), and thus may occupy the same quantum state at the same time. Particles with half-integer spin (1/2, 3/2, etc.) cannot. The components of matter (electron, quarks, etc.) are half-integer spin particles, while the particles that transmit force (photon, W/Z, and gluon) are integer spin particles
The Higgs field is the only scalar, or spin 0, field. The Higgs field attracts large masses to the W and Z gauge bosons. Their masses influence how far the W and Z bosons can travel, thus confirming the weak force's extremely short range.
The Higgs boson is a massive scalar particle, with zero spin, no electric charge, and no color charge. It is expected to have a mass of 125 GeV, and a mean lifetime of 1.561022 seconds.
The Higgs field does not generate the photon and the gluon masses, yet it does generate the photon and the gluon masses. And because the Higgs boson is itself massive, it must interact with the Higgs field.
Scientists are attempting to determine if the Higgs field gives mass to the three "flavors" of neutrinos: electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos, and tau neutrinos. Previously, neutrinos were thought to be neutrinos; however, it is now known that each neutrino has its own distinct mass.
Furthermore, physicists now believe that 95 percent of our universe is not made of ordinary matter, but of dark energy and dark matter. Scientists at CERN are trying to test whether dark energy and dark matter interact with the Higgs field.
Dark matter is a mass, according to CERN, and scientists have suggested that dark-matter particles might interact with the Higgs boson, resulting in a Higgs boson decaying into dark-matter particles.
Scientists have not stopped looking into this mysterious particle, even though finding the Higgs boson appeared to be a step towards completing the standard model (in effect). Since 2012, one of the most significant discoveries has been that the Higgs particle breaks down.
During run 3 of the LHC, further information will be learned about this mysterious particle, especially when the high luminosity upgrade to the particle accelerator is completed in 2029.
This will allow the LHC to record more collisions, giving scientists more opportunities to investigate unusual phenomena, such as things that don't fit into the standard model.
CERN expects the accelerator to produce 15 million Higgs bosons per year following the upgrade. This is a significant improvement from 2017, when the LHC produced three million Higgs bosons. This might be the key to discovering other Higgs bosons.
According to theories that go beyond the standard particle physics framework, there may be up to five different Higgs bosons, each of which might be less common than the main Higgs boson. Even before the upgrades, scientists had already shown glimpses of a "magnetic Higgs boson."
If you are a particle physicist, you will have exciting times ahead.