Yesterday’s announcement of a “Higgslike” particle at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the most expensive science experiment ever, is less an answer than it is an opening of many doors into the universe’s deeper mysteries, a pathway to many more answers. It’s looking like the Higgslike particle might not be the exact precise Higgs boson as predicted in the Standard Model, the Periodic Table-looking chart filled out with the universe’s fundamental particles, which is great news because that Standard Model is missing a whole lot of stuff that we need to understand to have a complete description of the universe: dark matter, dark energy, antimatter, gravity. The Higgs not being the perfect Higgs means potential roads to understanding even more new particles and cracking open more mysteries.
But it might be good to have some understanding of what the Higgs actually is before moving on to the next frontier, or trying to understand the next frontier. We rounded up a handful of explanations that might help you along the way, and one that won’t help you at all really, but we’re still glad exists. —By Katie Bennett and Michael Byrne
The Cassiopeia Project explains to us the basics. The Higgs, theorized in 1964 by British scientist Peter Higgs, potentially explains the way matter obtains mass. Otherwise it’d just be energy sailing around the cosmos at light speed not really doing anything. The bosons exist everywhere in space, potentially encompassing dark matter, dark energy, and even the force of gravity. And, complying with the law of quantum mechanics, the Higgs bosons are the particles of the Higgs field. Points go to the video for bringing in field theory, which a great many Higgs explanations seem to skip over as a concept. (It’s a very hard concept.)
Fermilab Physicist Don Lincoln says basically the same thing as above — but he does so by pointing a lot, and generally being a wacky physicist guy. Notably, he calls on his excessively hairy and livin’ large (“he’s no stranger to donuts”) middle-aged friend to move slothfully through kids at the local swimming pool. In doing so, the friend represents the Top Quark, the largest and heaviest subatomic particle. Which, by the way, must have the heaviest mass because it interacts with the Higgs field (the kids) most.
This Brit is reeeeally excited about us being “tantalizingly close” to finding evidence of the Higgs Boson. Made in 2011, his video was inspired by results from the large hadron collider (LHC), the 17-mile long particle accelerator buried beneath France and Switzerland. Two of its detectors, ATLAS and CMS (the detectors whose results were released yesterday), found evidence that the mass of the Higgs boson is between 115 and 126 GeV (it actually appears to be around 125 GeV). More importantly, because both detectors came up with similar results, it meant the LCH was working properly and could tell us more important things, like if the Higgs exists.
More English and more demonstrations in this vintage (2008) video. Back when talk of the Higgs Boson was just starting to spread beyond circles of scientists, thanks to the CERN’s construction of the LHC, Dr. Tara Shears, who is not particularly wacky, convinces us of the importance of finding proof: “although we’ve never seen a Higgs particle in our experiments, it is the most important missing link in our understanding of the universe.” This time the Top Quark is a professor with exam results who gets surrounded and slowed down by eager students from the University of Liverpool.
This video gives us a fun nickname for the Higgs Boson: the “God Particle.” Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon M. Lederman coined the term in his popular 1993 book on the Higgs. This may be one of the rare occasions in which someone calls a scientific phenomenon “God” without trying to convince us it was created by Him. This video also proves that nothing is immune to racist YouTube comment scum, not even theoretical physics.
This dude is wrong about mostly everything, but the point is that he’s interested. People, non-science people, being interested in something like the Higgs is crucial for big science projects to continue. It’s hard to ask for billions and billions of dollars in public funding for stuff the public doesn’t give a shit about. So, here’s to this guy and giving a shit.