At the Heart of All Matter

Posted on February 27, 2008  Comments (2)

Large Hadron Collider at CERN

The hunt for the God particle by Joel Achenbach

Physics underwent one revolution after another. Einstein’s special theory of relativity (1905) begat the general theory of relativity (1915), and suddenly even such reliable concepts as absolute space and absolute time had been discarded in favor of a mind-boggling space-time fabric in which two events can never be said to be simultaneous. Matter bends space; space directs how matter moves. Light is both a particle and a wave. Energy and mass are inter- changeable. Reality is probabilistic and not deterministic: Einstein didn’t believe that God plays dice with the universe, but that became the scientific orthodoxy.

Most physicists believe that there must be a Higgs field that pervades all space; the Higgs particle would be the carrier of the field and would interact with other particles, sort of the way a Jedi knight in Star Wars is the carrier of the “force.” The Higgs is a crucial part of the standard model of particle physics—but no one’s ever found it.

The Higgs boson is presumed to be massive compared with most subatomic particles. It might have 100 to 200 times the mass of a proton. That’s why you need a huge collider to produce a Higgs—the more energy in the collision, the more massive the particles in the debris. But a jumbo particle like the Higgs would also be, like all oversize particles, unstable. It’s not the kind of particle that sticks around in a manner that we can detect—in a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second it will decay into other particles. What the LHC can do is create a tiny, compact wad of energy from which a Higgs might spark into existence long enough and vivaciously enough to be recognized.

Previous posts on CERN and the Higgs boson: The god of small thingsCERN Prepares for LHC OperationsCERN Pressure Test FailureThe New Yorker on CERN’s Large Hadron Collider

2 Responses to “At the Heart of All Matter”

  1. Ron
    February 29th, 2008 @ 12:51 am

    This is a colossal waste of time.

  2. Brian Cox Particle Physics Webcast » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    March 25th, 2011 @ 7:54 am

    Brian Cox discuss does a very good job of explaining some of the basic science in understandable terms.

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