Astronomy Cast Ep. 394: The Standard Model – Bosons | Universe Today
Categories: Astronomy Cast

Astronomy Cast Ep. 394: The Standard Model – Bosons

All fundamental particles are either fermions or bosons. Last week we talked about quarks, which are fermions. This week we’ll talk about bosons, including the famous Higgs boson, recently confirmed by the Large Hadron Collider.

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Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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  • I would have liked more elaboration on the weak force.

    When I first learned about the fundamental forces (in my early teens), I thought the strong force held the quarks together into protons and neutrons (which is true) and the weak force held the protons and neutrons together in the nucleus (which is false).

    The reason for my error was that I assumed all forces had to do with particles attracting or repelling each other. Which is what you'd expect, given the word "force". But the weak force doesn't fit that pattern, and because it's an easy mistake to make, I feel the episode glossed over the question of how the weak force is a FORCE. Are we to understand that "force" is another of those words that is only used for historical reasons?

    The other fault I'll pick in the episode was that the Higgs stuff was either wrong or oversimplified. For one thing, there was no mention of the fact that the Higgs isn't responsible for mass *in general*, but only for the mass of fundamental particles. Composite particles, like protons, get most of their mass in other ways (which boil down to E=mc2). There was also some confusion in the episode between the Higgs *boson* and the Higgs *field*. (I understand Sean Carroll's book on the subject has all the details you could ever need, but I can't vouch for that as I've only read his blog posts.)

    Now, to be clear, I don't *blame* Pamela for vastly simplifying the Higgs stuff. You gotta simplify *something* or you'd never finish the episode. But in places I got the impression she was getting it wrong rather than intentionally simplifying out of mercy for the listeners' brain cells.

    • "I feel the episode glossed over the question of how the weak force is a FORCE."

      I believe they did this because the focus of the episode is the particles themselves (bosons) rather than the forces they mediate. Also, unlike other forces, the weak force is NOT easily explained in 30sec. or less, but Dr. Gay still managed to mention what it does generally (~22:20 mark of the video) while then proceeding to describe W-bosons in terms of how they are found in accelerators rather than discussing precisely what they actually DO.

      "For one thing, there was no mention of the fact that the Higgs isn’t responsible for mass *in general*, but only for the mass of fundamental particles... There was also some confusion in the episode between the Higgs *boson* and the Higgs *field*."

      In response to the former, the episode series is specifically about fundamental particles, so your assumption that they are referring to ALL particles generally is yours alone -- that some non-fundamental particles may or may not acquire mass in other ways is interesting but immaterial to this specific discussion. In response to the latter, Dr. Gay did mention that the Higgs boson & the Higgs field were different things (after ~30:30 mark), describing the relationship between the two as simply as possible to help avoid, as you might say, the perpetually unfinished episode.

      Again, the focus here is on "What the heck even IS a boson?" rather than an in-depth discussion of "What specifically and in detail does this particular boson do, and how does it do it?" If there was some particular statement made that was fundamentally incorrect, then I'm sure they (and the rest of us -- I'm not a particle physicist either by profession) would not mind hearing about that, as well as how to perhaps address it as the series unfolds.

  • I hear a popping sound and there is smoke coming out of my ears! But I'll be darned if this stuff isn't starting to sink in and make some sense! Thanks.. your efforts are appreciated!

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