The Higgs Boson Explained in 10 Easy Steps

10/03/2013 00:55


1. First, a quick trip back to science class. We know that everything (ie, matter) is made up of molecules. Still with us? Good. Molecules are made of atoms. Atoms are full of sub-atomic particles. For the purposes of talking about the Higgs, let's just focus on three types particles: electrons, up-quarks and down-quarks. Don't worry. It's about to get easier.

2. The Higgs boson is a type of particle, which is also referred to as the god particle (more on that in point 7). The terms are interchangeable. Physicists confirmed the Higgs/god particle exists on Wednesday night at the Large Hadron Collider (point 8).

3. In a sentence, this is why the Higgs boson matters, from Dr Karl: "You are made of particles that have no size, and no mass (separated by a vacuum). But somehow, there you are." True enough. So, how does one, full of particles with no size or mass, accumulate, say 86kg?

4. The Higgs boson is the particle in something called the Higgs Field. The Higgs Field gives things mass (remember, 86kg of human). Matter popped into existence one-ten-thousandth-of-a-millionth of a second after the Big Bang. The Big Bang is covered at length in a non-fictional TV seri es starring Jim Parsons.

5. Now to the good part - Lady Gaga. Imagine Lady Gaga steps off a plane by herself. At this moment - think of her as having zero mass. But as she moves through the airport (ie, the Higgs Field) a crowd builds. Everyone sucks up to her and wants to be her best friend, coagulating around her.This crowd gives Lady Gaga mass. The more she attracts little monsters, fangirls and security guards (ie, the Higgs boson particles), the more massive she becomes.

6. The Higgs boson is named after Scottish physicist Peter Higgs. The god particle is Scotland's most important scientific discovery since the Loch Ness Monster.


7. It's called the god particle because that's marketable. Originally, it was meant to be called the god-damn particle, because it was so god-damn hard to find. You have to agree with this assessment, given the world's best thinkers have been at it for decades and they only JUST found it.

8. Where did they find it? At the Large Hadron Collider, an enormous underground generator near the Swiss/French border. This particle accelerator smashes (collides) particles (hadrons) together at super speeds and physicists (super nerds) study the results. It gave us the Higgs.

9. Why is all this important? Because major scientific discoveries give us useful things. Einstein's theory of relativity eventually gave us GPS. John O'Sullivan's research into black holes gave us Wi-Fi. Following Wednesday's announcement, Dr Karl says we should pack our bags for Mars: "Further down the line, we'll make machines that alter the Higgs Field to add and subtract mass. If we could subtract mass we could travel at the speed of light and travel to Mars in 20 minutes.” That. Sounds. Awesome.

10. Lady Gaga doesn't get the Higgs all to herself; to see where Twilight and Hugh Jackman fit in, refer to this comprehensive manifesto from former technology editor Peter Farquhar.