Last Tuesday, particle physicists at CERN did not announce that they had found the Higgs Boson particle. Nor did they announce that they had not found the Higgs Boson. Instead, what we got was an update on the state of the research. But it's a really tantalizing update.
The Higgs Boson is a popular, but confusing, bit of physics. You know that reality is like a Lego model, it's made up of smaller parts. We are pieced together out of atoms. Atoms are made from protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are made of quarks. (Quarks and electrons, as far as we know, are elementary particles, with nothing smaller inside.) When you're talking about the Higgs Boson, you're talking about the mass of these particles. Here's an imperfect analogy: A top quark, the most massive particle we know of, is like an elephant. An electron, on the other hand, is more like a mouse. And nobody knows for certain why those differences exist.
There is a theory, though. Back in the 1960s, a guy named Peter Higgs came up with the idea that all these particles exist in a field, and their mass is a reflection of how much they interact with that field. Heavy particles have a lot of interaction. Lighter particles are relatively standoffish. If this field exists, the Higgs Boson is the tiny thing it's made of. Fermilab physicist Don Lincoln has a really great video explaining this, where he compares the Higgs field to water, and Higgs Bosons to the molecules that make up water. Everything that exists swims in an ocean of Higgses.
Tuesday morning, we learned a little more about the hunt for the Higgs Boson. But the point of the presentation wasn't really to say, "Yes, we found it" or "No, we haven't." In fact, if all you're paying attention to is that simple yes-or-no answer, you're going to miss a lot of interesting information—information that can help you better understand how science works and why the Higgs Boson is so important.
Read the rest