Posted on November 22, 2007 Comments (2)
Higgs’s theory showed that mass was produced by a new type of field that clings to particles wherever they are, dragging on them and making the heavy. Some particles find the field more sticky than others. Particles of light are oblivious to it. Others have to wade through it like an elephant in tar. So, in theory, particles can weigh nothing, but as soon as they are in the field, they get heavy.
Scientists now know that Higgs’s extraordinary field, or something very similar to it, played a key role in the formation of the universe. Without it, the cosmos would not have exploded into the rich, infinite galaxies we see today. The spinning disc of cosmic dust that collapsed 4.5 billion years ago to form our solar system would never have been. No planets would have formed, nor a sun to warm them. Life would not have stood a chance.
In late summer 1964, two years before he would give his Princeton lecture, Higgs rushed out a succinct letter, packed with mathematical formulae that backed his discovery and sent it to a leading physics journal run from Cern, the European nuclear research organisation in Geneva. The paper was published almost immediately, but went largely unnoticed.