Peter Higgs Dies at 94

Large Hadron Collider

Just like Isaac Newton, Galileo and Albert Einstein, I’m not sure exactly when I became aware of Peter Higgs. He has been one of those names that anyone who has even the slightest interest in science, especially physics, has become aware of at some point. Professor Higgs was catapulted to fame by the concept of the Higgs Boson – or God Particle as it became known. Sadly, this shy yet key player in the world of physics passed away earlier this month.

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God Particle

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Credit: CERN/LHC

When the media talks about the “god particle”, they’re really talking about a theoretical particle in physics known as the higgs boson. If reality matches the predictions made by theoretical physics, the higgs boson is the particle that gives objects mass. It explains why objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

One of the primary goals of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is to search for the so called “god particle”. When it finally gets running, the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, will run beams of protons around a 27 kilometer circle, slamming them together at close to the speed of light. All the kinetic energy of the protons is instantly frozen out as mass in a shower of particles. Remember Einstein’s famous E=mc2 formula? Well, you can reconfigure the equation to be m = E/c2.

The higgs boson is thought to be a very heavy particle, and so it takes a lot of energy in the collider to create particles this massive. When the LHC starts running, it will collide protons at higher and higher energies, searching for the higgs boson. If it is found, it will confirm a theorized class of particles predicted by the theory of supersymmetry. And even if the higgs boson isn’t found, it will help disprove the theory. Either way, physicists win.

The term “god particle” was coined by physicist Leon Lederman, the 1988 Nobel prize winner in physics and the director of Fermilab. He even wrote a book called the “God Particle”, where he defended the use of the term.

We have written many articles about the Higgs Boson and the Large Hadron Collider here on Universe Today. Here’s an article about how the LHC won’t create a black hole and destroy the Earth. And here’s more on Fermilab’s search for the Higgs Boson.

We have also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about the higgs boson. Listen to it here, Episode 69: The Large Hadron Collider and the Search for the Higgs Boson.