What’s a Higgs Boson, Anyway?

Article written: 3 Jul , 2012
Updated: 6 Jan , 2016

With the science world all abuzz in anticipation of tomorrow’s official announcement from CERN in regards to its hunt for the Higgs, some of you may be wondering, “what’s a Higgs?” And for that matter, what’s a boson?

The video above, released a couple of months ago by the talented Jorge Cham at PHDcomics, gives a entertaining run-down of subatomic particles, how they interact and how, if it exists — which, by now, many are sure it does — the Higgs relates to them.

It’s the 7-minutes course in particle physics you’ll wish you had taken in college (unless you’re a particle physicist in which case… well, you’d still probably have enjoyed it.)

Credit: PHDcomics.com

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10 Responses

  1. kurt_eh says

    Is it wrong that my brain instantly went to this place?

  2. fleinkantarell says

    Gratulations 🙂 Time to find and tame the Graviton.

  3. newSteveZodiac says

    What baffles me is not what the Higgs is but where is it? Is it in inside protons? Is it in the fabric of space, the multiverse next door or did it only exist 1 zillionth of a second after the big bang?. If it decays so instanantly then what role does it play in “stuff”?

  4. I want to thank Jason profusely, on behalf of the community of completely-scientifically-illiterates, of which I am a card-carrying member. This delightful animation has dispelled a tiny bit of the general fog that obscures this subject for me – hell, I might even read up more about it now!

  5. bugzzz says

    Great animation. Very helpful for us novices. How much more powerful will particle acceleraters become in near future? In other words, how much more powerful will the collisions be, and could that possibly lead to the discovery of even heavier, more exotic particles “beyond” Higgs?

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      On the general, open question that is hard to say. The specific question, what happens next or at least what is planned to happen next is easier to answer.

      The science community has settled a few generations back (time flies) on an overall research strategy of accelerator generations. This is because of how the physics works.

      The LHC is an example of the 1st generation into new territory – a space-saving syncrotron that goes to high energies by colliding large particles. Protons (and/or anti-protons) are suitable.

      So you get a rapid, cheap look into a new energy range. But your interactions, so your jets that you look into, are messy because of the complex target, the large composite particles.

      Hence they take what they learn about the interactions and how to analyze them to make a clean linear accelerator that can collide light, fundamental particles at higher energies to push the observations to the max. I.e. better peg the observed parameters of new particles and interactions. Here electrons (and/or positrons) are preferred.

      This is what LHC is set up to do. The lessons learned is planned to go into making an ILC, International Linear Collider.

      “It is planned to have a collision energy of 500 GeV initially, and—if approved after the project has published its Technical Design Report, planned for 2012—could be completed in the late 2010s.[1] A later upgrade to 1000 GeV (1 TeV) is possible.”

      “In a linear accelerator, the remaining particles are lost; in a ring accelerator, they keep circulating and are available for future collisions. The disadvantage of circular accelerators is that particles moving along bent paths will necessarily emit electromagnetic radiation known as synchrotron radiation. Energy loss through synchrotron radiation is inversely proportional to the fourth power of the mass of the particles in question.

      That is why it makes sense to build circular accelerators for heavy particles—hadron colliders such as the LHC for protons or, alternatively, for lead nuclei. An electron-positron collider of the same size would never be able to achieve the same collision energies.”

      “one of the roles of the ILC would be making precision measurements of the properties of particles discovered at the LHC.”

      If not LHC sees supersymmetry and dark matter candidates, the ILC will. But if it is going to be build is another matter. As in space research, over time the cost accelerates too.

      • bugzzz says

        Thanks for your reply. I would infer that the huge news of the higgs discovery will bode well for the more timely construction of future colliders.

  6. Mickey Schmidt says

    Great graphics. All the discussions I have seen has brought several questions to mind. As I understand it the Higgs Boson (particle) is very heavy or massive. It must have a field surrounding it for ordinary matter to interact with to gain the property of mass. This field must pervade the universe as all detectable matter in it has mass (other than photons). Since the universe is expanding one would think that the Higgs field must also be expanding and thus becoming less concentrated per unit of volume. Wouldn’t this result in decreasing mass of all particles interacting with the Higgs field? What might the nature of this field be? Electro-magnetic or something altogether different? Just suppose a device could be invented to mask or null the Higgs field in a small space, would the mass of particles in this masked volume be reduced to zero? Imagine a space craft that could mask the field. Would it (the spacecraft, become mass-less? Would it cease to exist? If not could it accellerate ot the speed of light (w/o mass) and hopefully decellerate?
    Perhaps a type of warp engine ??? Pure speculation and comments will be appreciated.

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