Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Higgs Boson, Yoda, and the Large Hadron Collider

My friend James alerted me to this news on the science frontier. According to the Guardian, the Large Hadron Collider or L.H.C. as it is known by some (simply as Cern by others) is warming up as of late February to begin looking for the mysterious Higgs Boson particle (its been elusive and they haven't found it in earlier searches).  It has been dubbed the “God Particle” and a lot of articles about it seem to be complicated (unnecessarily so) maybe because they are written by scientists and not by writers (who are used to explaining things so that people can actually understand them).
So, the question of “Science Wednesday” (Yes, this is totally a play on N.P.R.'s Science Friday) is simply, what is the Higgs Boson?
Well first, its name comes from a Physicist as unassuming as you or I. His name is Peter Higgs.  Secondly, the Higgs Boson is an idea formulated many years ago to explain why matter has mass.
See, physicists noticed when looking at extremely tiny particles of matter, that all things weren’t equal.  They dubbed this phenomenon the “particle zoo” as simply put…some pieces of matter were inexplicably of different shape and size than others. For example: Did you know that there's so much empty space inside matter that the entire human race could be squeezed into the volume of a sugar cube?

Enter...the Particle Zoo!  I bet you were expecting
"Enter the Dragon" and some variation of Bruce Lee web-fu!
However, Charlie can vouch that my web-fu is indeed mighty.

Jedi Master Yoda AS IF he needed
 an introduction. If he did need an introduction,
I would snort derisively at you (while
simultaneously flexing my bad writing/
adverbial skills). One of the quotes he is most famous
 for is when he's speaking with Luke on Dagobah.
He says (of the Force), "Its energy surrounds us
 and binds us. Luminous beings are we,
not this crude matter. ... For my ally is the Force,
and a powerful ally it is.” Doesn't that sound
a lot like the Higgs Boson field?

A wild idea was spawned in the mind of Dr. Peter Higgs in an attempt to explain this phenomenon.  He said that there was this invisible force field that gave matter its shape. Personally, I think that Yoda or even George Lucas should have got the credit).
In other words, an invisible field makes a pear look like a pear or makes you look like you and me look like…well, me (although I wish I looked like Bradley James).  And because all fields thus far discovered in the universe have a particle associated with them, it made logical sense that if this field does indeed exist, then there has to be a particle for it.

This is also why the Higgs particle is oftentimes called the “God Particle” and given my explanation above, you can see why.  If one particle connected to a field were responsible for interacting with matter in such a way as to make it possible to arrange into shapes…then this could for many of us be as close to a literal definition of God as science allows.
Much now seems to rest on the detection of the Higgs particle and the “mysterious” field to which it is associated. One of the great enigmas of particle physics is why charge and other quantum attributes occur in integer quantities while mass, the most fundamental property of all matter and energy (and, not coincidentally, the basis of gravitation), does not.

It's still frickin' ugly even if it
is a classic car. My brother may
disagree as he's a car nut but...whatever.
So yeah…the multi-billion dollar L.H.C. is essentially this huge toy built so that physicists could go hunting for a particle that may or may not exist.  The key is that the colliders they had to work with before the L.H.C. simply didn’t have enough juice (You’d think that America…home of Viagra, Levitra…and others would have tried harder to keep the largest super-collider on our soil).  As it is, now the Europeans have the biggest tool. The hope is that they’ll smash protons apart so completely that the Higgs particle will be detected and then we can all sleep at night again, knowing that there is a particle that explains why the Edsel was so butt ugly.



  1. I'm fascinated with the idea of putting the entire human race into a sugar cube. Maybe, women employ this method to rid the world of the male species.

  2. Laura, you only say that cause you secretly have a sweet tooth. Admit this and then get some chocolate, hon. You'll feel so much better :)

  3. Either that our they'll totally create a black hole and we'll all be sucked into oblivion.

    Just kidding. =)

    I like the forcefield idea. Might be fun to play with for a book idea.

  4. new follower from crusade and fellow Utahn.

  5. Love the particle zoo poster.

  6. And with the quarks, you managed to make physics FREAKING ADORABLE. Thank you.

  7. I remember reading something about the Higgs-Boson particle in Robert Sawyer's "Flashforward" (the basis for the short-lived ABC series) and there was a mention of it in the 2003 version of "Solaris" where I think they created some kind of anti-Higgs-Boson thing to get rid of dopplegangers.

    Of course Higgs-Boson is probably like dark matter in that scientists don't really know what it is and just use it as a catch-all to explain what they don't know.

  8. What if it is real though, mutt? I mean...what if they design something that can manipulate the field and change the shape of matter instantly? We could all become shape changers which (in my opinion) could be really cool.

  9. I want those cute little subatomic particle dolls. have!

  10. I was those little particle toys! Tachyon looks adorably sinister and they remind me of the germ plushies. Science is too amusing for its own good.

  11. I'm pretty sure shape changing by using the invisible field would have some unpleasant side effects, but it would come in handy on non-organic stuff. My sofa is lame...BAM! Sweet new love seat.

    I really want a dark matter pillow pet now...

  12. OMG that is exactly the premise behind my "Genies" being able to do "magic" Lol - Love Your post oh twinkster nerd!

  13. I agree with Luna. And then I'm going to fact check to see if all of us really can be squeezed into a tiny cube. Hmmm...sugar...

  14. I Agree it was an UGLY car, but check this link out of a re-do from the 50's . All I have to say is YES PLEASE!

  15. That's a very sexy car. Maybe one day I can afford to buy one.

  16. I probably shouldn't post this as the first comment on a blog I haven't visited before, but what the heck. Am I the only one reading this as "the large Hardon Collider" and the "Higgs Bosom"? Yes? No?

    At least I got Yoda right...

  17. Lulz. The Japanese are having an effect on you heheh