Higgs Boson

A subatomic particle, responsible for all the mass in the Universe.

What is the Higgs boson?

The Higgs boson is a tiny, fundamental particle with some massive implications. It is responsible for all the mass in the universe and, as a result, is sometimes refered to as the ‘God Particle’.

The Higgs boson was predicted in 1965 and first detected with confidence on 4 July 2012.


So what?

The most basic building blocks of the universe are called elementary particles (particles that can’t be broken down any further).

There are two groups of elementary particles: fermions (particles that make up matter) and bosons (particles that carry forces).

We understand bosons and fermions relatively well, as well as the four fundamental forces that result from these particles.

But we don’t really understand why matter has mass or the amount of mass it has. And this is where we need to understand another thing called the Higgs field.

The Higgs field is an invisible and theoretical force field the fills the entire universe. We can’t see it but we can detect it with sophisticated equipment.

As a particle moves through the Higgs field, it generates Higgs bosons as the field becomes ‘excited’ and the particle gets mass.

So, if we can detect Higgs bosons, then we know that there is a Higgs field.

If we know there is a Higgs field, then we understand how matter gets mass.

The Higgs boson does not interact with all particles in the same way. The more a Higgs boson interacts with a particle, the greater it slows down the particle and the more massive the particle is observed to be.

“The way the Higgs field gives masses to particles is its own unique feature, which is different from all other known fields in the universe,” says Matt Strassler, a Harvard University theoretical physicist. “When the Higgs field turns on, it changes the environment for all particles; it changes the nature of empty space itself.”

In other words, space is no longer empty. Matter has mass. The universe exists and the God Particle suddenly seems like an appropriate name for the Higgs boson.

What else?

The Higgs field is different from other forces. The other four fundamental forces allow particles to interact with one another. But the Higgs field only lets a particle interact with the Higgs field.

The Higgs field was originally proposed as a way to unite two of the four fundamental forces: the electromagnetic force and weak force. Together, these are called the electroweak force.

To unify the electromagnetic and weak forces, you need to explain why the particles that carry the electromagnetic force (photons) have no mass but the particles that carry the weak force (W and Z bosons) have a mass.

Theorists Robert Brout, François Englert and Peter Higgs proposed the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism, which gives a mass to the W and Z bosons when they interact with an invisible field, now called the Higgs field.


Want more?

There’s a lot of weird and wonderful science to get your head ahead when it comes to the Higgs boson. This excellent video gives a more detailed explanation:

Life Scientific – Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs opens up to Jim Al-Khalili about the implications of the Higgs Boson and a theory that later changed the face of physics.

The Physics Hiding in the Higgs Boson

This article succintly explains why there is still a lot we can learn about the Higgs Boson and its implications for the Universe.

Higgs by Jim Baggott

A tour-de-force offering a full explanation of the Higgs field, Higgs boson and the development of the Standard Model.

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