Higgs boson

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The Higgs boson is a massive spin-0 elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics that plays a key role in explaining the mass of other elementary particles. The experimental discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs was announced in a seminar on July 4, 2012.[1][2] This particle was first proposed by Professor Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University in 1964 as a means to explain the origin of the masses of the elementary particles by the introduction of an fundamental scalar field. This gives all the fundamental particles mass via a process of spontaneous symmetry breaking called the Higgs Mechanism. The Higgs boson was popularised as the "God particle" by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon M. Lederman in his 1993 popular science book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What is the Question? co-written with science writer Dick Teresi.[3][4]

The Higgs mechanism

In the Standard Model, the theory that explains experimental observations of elementary particles, the QCD vacuum has less symmetry than the force laws governing fundamental interactions.[5] This reduced symmetry situation is not unique, and is found in many systems, among them the ground state of ferroelectrics and of superconductors. In these systems, the greater symmetry of nature is exhibited "on average" by a mosaic of sub-domains individually with reduced symmetry, but statistically exhibiting the greater symmetry of the interactions when all the domains are viewed as an ensemble.

In the case of superconductors, the photons, whose exchange mediates the electromagnetic interactions between Cooper pairs, cannot propagate freely because of the presence everywhere of electric charge. In a similar fashion, the Higgs mechanism predicts the symmetry of electroweak interactions is broken by interactions among Higgs bosons in the vacuum, leading (among other things) to non-zero masses for the W± and Z weak bosons. In fact, the properties of mass and electric charge stem from interaction with the reduced symmetry vacuum, and are not a result of direct interactions between particles.[6]

Search for the Higgs boson

Studies using the Fermilab's Tevatron collider suggest a range for the mass of the Higgs boson between 115-150 GeV (gigaelectronvolts), assuming the correctness of the Standard Model of particle physics. See review of the experiments:[7] The observed mass was placed at 125.3±0.6 GeV.[2]

The Higgs particle was not made in the Tevatron collider, but by using the high energies of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. This discovery was an early goal of this major international project.[8] The magnitude of this effort is huge:[9]

"The data presented yesterday are the latest from the $10.5 billion Large Hadron Collider, a 27-kilometer (17-mile) circumference particle accelerator buried on the border of France and Switzerland. CERN has 10,000 scientists working on the project..."

The discovery was a bit anticlimactic, as theory has incorporated the Higgs boson for decades. As said by Stephen Hawking:[10][11]

“This is an important result and should earn Peter Higgs the Nobel Prize” the physicist predicted. “But it is a pity in a way, because the great advances in physics have come from experiments that gave results we didn’t expect.”

Further experiments will explore the complete mechanism.

References

  1. Announced at a CERN seminar in Geneva. See Thomas Mulier and Jason Gale. Higgs boson discovery brings scientists close to understanding mass. Washington Post. Retrieved on 2012-07-05.
  2. 2.0 2.1 CERN experiments observe particle consistent with long-sought Higgs boson. CERN press office (4 July 2012). Retrieved on 2012-07-05.
  3. Leon M. Lederman and R Teresi (1993). The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What is the Question?. Dell. ISBN 0-385-31211-3. 
  4. Ivan Semeniuk (17 February 2009). "Fermilab 'closing in' on the God particle". New Scientist.
  5. Guido Altarelli (2008). “Chapter 2: Gauge Theories and the Standard Model”, Elementary Particles (Landolt-Börnstein: Numerical Data and Functional Relationships in Science and Technology - New Series / Elementary Particles, Nuclei and Atoms) Volume 21, Subvolume A. Springer, p. 2-3. ISBN 3540742026. “the fundamental state of minimum energy, the vacuum, is not unique and there is a continuum of degenerate states that all together respect the symmetry...” 
  6. Christopher G. Tully (2011). Elementary Particle Physics in a Nutshell. Princeton University Press, p. 5. ISBN 1400839351. 
  7. Klaus Mönig (February 12, 2010). "Viewpoint: First bounds on the Higgs boson from hadron colliders". Physics 3: 14. DOI:10.1103/Physics.3.14. Research Blogging. Download PDF.
  8. Why do particles have mass?. LHC 'big questions'. Science and Technology Facilities Council (2012). Retrieved on 2012-07-06.
  9. Quote from Thomas Mulier and Jason Gale. Higgs boson discovery brings scientists close to understanding mass. Washington Post. Retrieved on 2012-07-05.
  10. Interview with BBC's Pallab Ghosh (July 4th, 2012). Stephen Hawking on Higgs: 'Discovery has lost me $100'. BBC. Retrieved on 2012-07-06.
  11. Chris Davies (Jul 4th, 2012). Higgs boson costs Stephen Hawking $100 bet. Slash Gear. Retrieved on 2012-07-05.