The God Particle
Physicist Brian Greene explains the Higgs boson particle, also known as the "God Particle," and why you should care about it. This energetic and delightful talk will make you wish your high school physics teacher taught like this. Greene says the feat of finding such a particle is akin to "trying to hear a tiny, delicate whisper over the massive thundering, deafening din of a NASCAR race."
Greene gave this talk in 2012 just days before CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) confirmed the theory of the Higgs boson using the Large Hadron Collider. The following year, the Nobel prize in physics was awarded jointly to François Englert and Peter Higgs “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles.”
Around 1970, Peter Higgs imagines that all of space is uniformly filled with an invisible substance that’s sort of like molasses. When a particle, like an electron, tries to move through this molasses, the resistance it encounters is what we interpret as the mass of the particle. In fact, the idea is that different particles would have different degrees of stickiness which means they would experience a different amount of resistance as they try to borrow through this pervasive molasses. Higgs’s theory, if proven, would rewrite the very meaning of nothingness because the field, or molasses, is essentially an unremoveable occupant of space.
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in Geneva, is about 18 miles around. Protons are sent cycling around the collider in opposite directions, near the speed of light, so fast that they can traverse that 18-mile race track more than 11,000 times each second. And these particles engage in head-on collisions. It’s a monumental challenge to carry out this procedure. “It’s like trying to hear a tiny, delicate whisper over the thundering, deafening din of a NASCAR race,” says Greene.
By the numbers
Fundamental discovery can have a profound impact on the way we live our lives, but we must wait for theoretical discoveries to turn into practical applications. Confirming the existence of the Higgs particle in 2012 substantiated 30 years of theoretical science. In short, the Higgs discovery put the bang in the Big Bang Theory.