A guide to Higgs boson and everything
Scientists at the Cern research centre in Switzerland today unveiled findings that point to the existence of the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle key to the formation of stars, planets and eventually life after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Below is a guide to the main concepts and technology.
What is the Higgs Boson?
The Higgs is the last missing piece of the Standard Model, the theory that describes the basic building blocks of the universe. The other 11 particles predicted by the model have been found and finding the Higgs would validate the model.
Ruling it out or finding something more exotic would force a rethink on how the universe is put together.Scientists believe that in the first billionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe was a gigantic soup of particles racing around at the speed of light without any mass to speak of.
It was through their interaction with the Higgs field that they gained mass and eventually formed the universe.The Higgs field is a theoretical and invisible energy field that pervades the whole cosmos. Some particles, like the photons that make up light, are not affected by it and therefore have no mass. Others find it drags on them as porridge drags on a spoon.
Picture George Clooney (the particle) walking down a street with a gaggle of photographers (the Higgs field) clustered around him. An average guy on the same street (a photon) gets no attention from the paparazzi and gets on with his day. The Higgs particle is the signature of the field - an eyelash of one of the photographers.
The particle is theoretical, first posited in 1964 by six physicists, including Briton Peter Higgs.The search for it only began in earnest in the 1980s, first
in Fermilab's now mothballed Tevatron particle collider near Chicago and later in a similar machine at Cern, but most intensively since 2010 with the start-up of the European centre's Large Hadron Collider.
What is the Standard Model?
The Standard Model is to physics what the theory of evolution is to biology. It is the best explanation physicists have of how the building blocks of the universe are put together. It describes 12 fundamental particles, governed by four basic forces.
But the universe is a big place and the Standard Model only explains a small part of it. Scientists have spotted a gap between what we can see and what must be out there. That gap must be filled by something we don't fully understand, which they have dubbed "dark matter".
Galaxies are also hurtling away from each other faster than the forces we know about suggest they should. This gap is filled by "dark energy". This poorly understood pair are believed to make up a whopping 96 per cent of the mass and energy of the cosmos.