Wednesday, July 4, 2012
It's a BOSON!
Warning--NERD ALERT: This post contains unusually high levels of one or more of the following: Geek, Nerd, Dork, or Math. Readers Advised by the Surgeon General that reading this post may induce over-excitement about the microscopically tiny or macroscopically huge world of quantum physics, or may cause a lasting love of math. Continue at your own risk.
So they found it. The particle they've been searching for for years--the Higgs boson. But what is this particle--what does it do, what did they find, what does it imply for the future of quantum physics, and why on Earth would a bunch of physicists (who are usually not very religious) nickname an elementary particle the "God Particle"? All that and more--right here.
First, we must understand some basic principles of particle physics theory--without trying to bore you, I promise. At the quantum level, all of the quarks and elementary particles that collectively make up both matter and forces (yes, particles make forces like gravity--getting to that) can be explained through something referred to as the Standard Model of quantum physics. This theory, known as the "Theory of Almost Everything" because it still doesn't explain gravity or dark forces, has predicted several particles that MUST exist in order for the interactions that physicists have seen occurring for years to take place. One of these is the Higgs boson--a boson that gives rise to the Higgs mechanism, the mechanics by which all particles receive mass.
Now, this is different than gravity. Interaction with the Higgs field--through the Higgs boson--gives any elementary particle--and thus all matter--its mass. Gravity, on the other hand, is an interaction between masses due to the curvature of spacetime. The boson in question is merely a byproduct of the interaction known as the Higgs mechanism--it doesn't really DO anything, but its existence provides even further confirmation for the theory that has come to define quantum physics in the past few decades--the Standard Model, or the GUT theory.
So, what does this imply for the future of physics? I mentioned earlier that the fatal flaw of the Standard Model was its lack of inclusion of the ideas of gravity. What particle, or field, or mechanism, allows for the curvature of spacetime and gravitational interaction? For years, scientists have been puzzling over the answer to this question--trying to unify the GUT and general gravitation in theories like Supersymmetry. Now that the Standard Model has been generally verified, the search for the Theory of Everything will continue--but at least now we now in what direction to proceed.
Hence, the name--the "God Particle". No, it doesn't explain the creation. No, it doesn't prove the existence (or absence) of a God or Creator. No, it doesn't tackle metaphysics. No, it really doesn't do anything (besides prove the most modern theory in the world of the natural sciences).
What does it mean for the general non-physicist layman? Pretty much nothing. But remember, some of the most notorious advancements in technology came from (and will continue to come from) particle physics research. The World Wide Web was developed at CERN, after all. So keep your fingers crossed for some new toy.
And keep your fingers crossed for that Theory of Everything.
If you're curious, Wikipedia has excellent articles about math/physics related fields (the one on the Higgs Mechanism is especially enlightening). Yes, despite their reputation, Wikipedia is GREAT for everything except the popular stuff like Chuck Norris and Mormons.
That is all. See you soon.