The 'God particle' or Higgs boson

News Excerpt:

British physicist Peter Higgs, whose theory of a mass-giving particle—the so-called Higgs boson—jointly earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics, died at 94.

What is the Higgs Boson?

  • A boson is a "force carrier" particle that occurs when particles interact with each other, with a boson exchanged during this interaction. 
    • For example, when two electrons interact they exchange a photon  —  the force-carrying particle of electromagnetic fields.
  • The Higgs boson has a mass of 125 billion electron volts  , which means it is 130 times more massive than a proton.
  • It is also chargeless with zero spin  —  a quantum mechanical equivalent to angular momentum.
    • The Higgs Boson is the only elementary particle with no spin.
  • Because quantum field theory describes the microscopic world and the quantum fields that fill the universe with wave mechanics, a boson can also be described as a wave in a field. 
  • So a photon is a particle and a wave that arises from an excited electromagnetic field and the Higgs boson is the particle or "quantized manifestation" that arises from the Higgs field when excited. 
    • That field generates mass via its interaction with other particles and the mechanism carried by the Higgs boson, which is called the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism.

Why is the Higgs Boson called 'GOD PARTICLE'?

  • The origin of this is often connected to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman referring to the Higgs boson as the "Goddamn Particle" in frustration with regard to how difficult it was to detect.
  • When Lederman authored a book on the Higgs boson in the 1990s, the title was to be "The Goddamn Particle", but the publishers changed this to "The God Particle", and a troublesome connection with religion was drawn. 
  • Still, it's hard to overestimate the importance of the Higgs boson and the Higgs field in general, as without this aspect of nature, no particles would have mass. 
    • That means no stars, planets, or us — something that may help warrant its hyperbolic nickname. 

Why is Higgs Boson important?

  • In 1964, researchers began using quantum field theory to study the weak nuclear force—which determines the atomic decay of elements by transforming protons to neutrons—and its force carriers, the W and Z bosons.
  • The weak force carriers should be massless, and if they weren't, this risked breaking a principle of nature called symmetry, which  , just like the symmetry of a shape, ensures it looks the same if it is turned or flipped, ensures the laws of nature are the same however they are viewed. Putting mass arbitrarily onto particles also caused certain predictions to trend towards infinity. 
  • Yet researchers knew that because the weak force is so strong over short-distance interactions—much more powerful than gravity—but very weak over longer interactions, its bosons must have mass.
  • The solution proposed by Peter Higgs François Englert, and Robert Brout in 1964 was a new field and a way to "trick" nature into spontaneously breaking symmetry.

Higgs Boson and Mass:

  • Boson is the name given to a family of elementary particles that are known to be carriers of fundamental forces like electromagnetism. 
    • A photon, which carries the electromagnetic force, is a boson
    • On the other hand, matter particles, like electrons or protons, belong to the class called fermions.
  • The Higgs boson is significant because it is the particle responsible for giving mass to other fundamental particles through the Higgs mechanism. 
    • This discovery confirmed the theory that mass is not an intrinsic property of matter but rather arises from interactions with the Higgs field.
  • Fundamental particles of matter like electrons or protons do not have mass within themselves, 
    • Scientists realised that the equations would not work if these particles had inherent mass.
  • The pre-eminence that Higgs received was mainly due to the fact that he alone postulated that this mathematical construct, if it indeed were physical reality, would give rise to a particle, the eventual Higgs boson.
  • The interaction of the particles with this Higgs field — the way they change the field or get changed by them — lends them the mass. 
    • The greater the interaction, the larger the mass. 
  • A photon, a light particle, does not interact with this field at all and is thus massless. Other particles are also massless. 
    • But particles like electrons and protons interact and have masses. 
      • The Higgs boson itself interacts with this field and thus has mass.

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