This week, on July 4, in a news conference to be beamed around the world, physicists at CERN (home of the Large Hadron Collider) will be making an announcement about the Higgs boson. We can’t tell you what the announcement will be, but here’s a ‘bluffer's guide’ to the Higgs – just in case.
The Higgs boson was summoned into theoretical existence to plug a hole in a theory that was almost perfect – the ‘standard model’ of particle physics.
The standard model has been hugely successful – it can provide explanations and make predictions about how the counter-intuitive quantum world of particles works. But it couldn’t explain one thing – why the universe has mass.
This was a crucial omission because, without mass, their is no gravity and, without gravity, the roiling soup of particles spat out by the Big Bang would never have coalesced to form the stars and planets – neither you, me or anything else would exist.
The Higgs boson is seen as the answer to this problem. It is the physical emissary of a all-pervading field that interacts with matter to give it the mass that the universe so desperately needs.
If we can’t find the Higgs, it means that there is an entirely new set of as yet undiscovered truths waiting to be uncovered – and that’s almost more exciting.
Of course, Wednesday’s announcement could be just a confirmation that the search is on the right track but, if it’s something more, it could be the standard model’s final triumph.or its final gasp.
Exciting isn’t it?