Biggest discovery in particle physics for forty years -
Scientists working at theLarge Hadron Collider in Geneva may finally have tracked down the elusive Higgs boson. Results announced today at CERNshow that a new heavy particle has been identified, with all the properties expected of the Higgs.
The search for the Higgs requires the careful study of thousands of trillions of particle collisions at incredibly high energies. The LHC accelerates beams of protons around a 27km ring on the Swiss-French border. On collision, the protons’ energy is converted to new particles, which are detected by a series of huge and complex experiments. From around a billion collisions per second, a Higgs boson is expected to be produced around once per minute – but only a fraction of these can be detected.
Many physicists believe that the simplest version of Higgs’ theory must be modified by a new phenomenon called supersymmetry. This would also provide clues as to the origin of the mysterious ‘dark matter’ which occupies the galaxy alongside stars and planets, and would also point the way towards deeper and simpler theories of space and time.
What is the Higgs boson?
The Higgs boson is a type of elementary, sub-atomic particle that is widely believed to play a key role in shaping the way the Universe functions
What does the Higgs boson actually do?
It’s believed that Higgs bosons are responsible for determining how much mass other types of elementary particle have. The theory goes as follows: countless numbers of Higgs bosons make up an energy field (‘the Higgs Field’) that extends throughout the Universe. When other types of elementary particle move through the Higgs Field, some do so very easily (like an arrow flying through the air); this results in them having little mass and, in some cases, no mass at all. But other, less ‘streamlined’ types of elementary particle don’t move through the Higgs Field so easily and this results in them having a relatively high mass.
How could you ‘see’ a Higgs boson?
You can not directly see a Higgs boson. It’s believed that, with the right experiment in place, a decaying Higgs boson would leave behind a detectable ‘footprint’ in the form of a unique configuration of other particles. Higgs bosons should (according to current theories) be created a few times in every trillion high energy particle collisions at the LHC.
A dramatic change in particle physics?
Discovering the Higgs boson would be the start of a new phase in particle physics – for example, dark matter, which forms 23 per cent of the Universe is not explained in the Standard Model, but the properties of the Higgs boson could point to which extensions of the theory are likely to be correct, setting the direction for particle physics research. Conversely, the properties of the Higgs boson could close off some theoretical options, so particle physics is set for a period of dramatic change if the Higgs is discovered.