I studied physics at the University of Michigan in an age where we detected the Higgs Boson and gravity waves. Next up: extraterrestrial life. That’s where I come in. Maybe I only got in to the school at the bottom of my list but I’ll be damned if that holds me back from studying exoplanet atmospheres.
Gravitational waves have FINALLY been detected, more or less exactly 100 years after they were predicted! This is as big as the Higgs Boson was!
The last great prediction of the Standard Model of Particle Physics (which explains everything except gravity) was confirmed when the Higgs Boson was discovered in 2012, and the last great prediction of General Relativity (which explains gravity) was confirmed with these gravitational waves in 2016.
Now that we’re as sure as we can be of the two big pillars of physics, what remains is to try and synthesise them into a Theory of Everything…
(By the way, this opens up a whole new field of astronomy! Until now, we’ve been limited to electromagnetic radiation (light, radio waves, x-rays etc.), neutrinos and the occasional meteorite coming to us from space. Gravitational waves give us a whole new tool to “see” the Universe with!)
In which I explain the Higgs Boson to my girlfriend, who is a biologist not a physicist.
Alex Wright:ok, so, first I should explain what a Boson is
coles notes version please
alright, so, a boson is a field mediating particle, like a photon
are you familiar with the electromagnetic field?
ok, so the photon is the boson that mediates the electromagnetic field.
the field, and force, doesn't exist without and is made up of photons. If you excite the field to a certain energy, photons are released.
and we can observe them
yes I understand that
it's like when you slosh around a bucket of water and some of the water at the surface splashes up into a drop separate from the larger body of water
ok, so that's the basics of bosons
the Higgs boson is a very special type of boson
You know that atoms are essentially 98% empty space, yes?
you've got your nucleus, and the electrons are floating around about as far away as jupiter from the sun, if we're talking scale here.
I know that
so most of the universe is about 98% nothing
but this doesn't really make sense, because if it was truly empty, everything would be zooming around at the speed of light
einstein's general relativity tells us that the thing that keeps particles form zooming about at light speed is mass.
some particles don't have mass, like photons and electrons, which obviously travel at light speed.
but what creates mass?
50 years ago, a smart guy named Peter Higgs suggested that that 98% of empty space wasn't empty at all, he hypothesized that this empty space was actually completely saturated with the Higgs Field
the Higgs field acts like a quantum molasses which slows down these particles as they travel through space.
so, he proposed this 50 years ago, and described the phenomenon with mathematics, and it made sense
but the problem was, the Higgs field has such high energy, and because of Einstein's E=mc^2 equation, such high mass properties, it takes an immense amount of energy to excite the field enough to observe the particle
At TEDx, we’re no stranger to the fascinating science going down at the home of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. In fact, CERN just held their first TEDx event this May — TEDxCERN! As part of the event, CERN scientists teamed up with our friends at TED-Ed to create some amazing animations on the stuff they study.
So, for all of you who wanna learn about particle physics, but don’t exactly have the time to win a Nobel Prize, two animated lessons — one on the Higgs and the other, well, just on the beginning of the universe:
The basics of the Higgs boson In 2012, scientists at CERN discovered evidence of the Higgs boson — a particular game-changer in the field of particle physics — key to understanding how particles gain mass. Using the Socratic method, CERN scientists Dave Barney and Steve Goldfarb explain the exciting implications of the Higgs boson.
The beginning of the universe, for beginners How did the universe begin — and how is it expanding? CERN physicist Tom Whyntie shows how cosmologists and particle physicists explore these questions by replicating the heat, energy and activity of the first few seconds of our universe, from right after the Big Bang.
(Above, extraordinary photos of CERN, all copyright CERN and their photographers.)
Explore the elementary particles that make up our universe.
The Standard Model is a kind of periodic table of the elements for particle physics. But instead of listing the chemical elements, it lists the fundamental particles that make up the atoms that make up the chemical elements, along with any other particles that cannot be broken down into any smaller pieces.
The complete Standard Model took a long time to build. Physicist J.J. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897, and scientists at the Large Hadron Collider found the final piece of the puzzle, the Higgs boson, in 2012.
Use this interactive model (based on a design by Walter Murch for the documentary Particle Fever) to explore the different particles that make up the building blocks of our universe.
The two experiments that discovered the Higgs boson in 2012 have sensed an intriguing if very preliminary whiff of a possible new elementary particle. Both collaborations announced their observations on 15 December, as they released their first significant results since completing a major upgrade earlier this year.
The results largely matched a rumour that has circulated on social media and blogs for several days: that both the CMS and ATLAS detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) outside Geneva, Switzerland, have seen in the debris of proton-proton collisions an unexpected excess of pairs of photons carrying around 750 giga electronvolts (GeV) of energy combined. This could be a tell-tale sign of a new particle — also a boson, but not necessarily similar to the Higgs — decaying into two photons of equal mass. It would be about four times more massive than the next heaviest particle discovered so far, the top quark, and six times more massive than the Higgs.
Keep in mind that this has not been confirmed yet, and it could be a statistical anomaly, but regardless this is very interesting. Hopefully in the near future more data can confirm whether this result holds true; if so it could represent a big discovery in particle physics.
Born on May 29th, 1929 - Peter Higgs is best known for his proposal of the Higgs mechanism. Currently he serves as Professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh.
Higgs’ proposal says that particles were massless when the universe began, and acquired mass a fraction of a second later when interacting with the so-called Higgs field. He postulated that this field permeates all of space, and gives all elementary subatomic particles that interact with it their mass. The Higgs field is thought to interact and cause all of the mass in quarks and leptons, but only causes a tiny portion of the masses of other subatomic particles, such as protons and neutrons. In these larger particles, gluons that bind the quarks together to form them create most of the mass.
The most coveted prize in particle physics – the Higgs boson – may have been glimpsed, say researchers reporting at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva. The particle is purported to be the means by which everything in the Universe obtains its mass. Scientists say that two experiments at the LHC see hints of the Higgs at the same mass, fuelling huge excitement. But the LHC does not yet have enough data to claim a discovery.