Higgs-Boson: What Is The “God Particle”, And Why Is It So Important?

    July 2, 2012
    Amanda Crum

Particle physicists think they have discovered a key element to a question we have never been able to answer: where did we come from?

While it’s long been thought in the scientific world that life on Earth was created by a “big bang”–the high-energy collision of particles and matter billions of years ago within the universe–one very big snag in the theory was the question of where those particles came from, themselves. It becomes a sort of, “chicken-or-the-egg” thing, and thinking about it too long makes my brain hurt; if I could get Neil Degrasse Tyson to explain it to me, I’m sure it would all sound simple enough.

The missing element to the theory is what scientists call the “God particle”–the Higgs boson–, which has been to those in the science world what the Holy Grail was for Indiana Jones; much speculated about, but always just out of reach. Now, researchers think they’ve found a key element to that particle, what is essentially a “footprint” of the Higgs boson, and are eager to examine it more carefully to determine if it is, in fact, the basis of living organisms.

If you picture the Higgs boson as a huge field in space which affects everything it comes into contact with, you’ll get a sense of why it’s so important. Other particles are either super-charged because of it, and are therefore attracted to it, or they don’t have much energy and sort of slog through the particle field. The super-charged particles give the Higgs boson more mass. Only it’s not volumetric mass; in this case, “mass” means a charge, or energy. I’ll let these guys explain it:

The Higgs Boson Explained from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

That’s essentially been the theory, anyway. And if what has been discovered is indeed a Higgs boson, we may be able to determine exactly how it began all those billions of years ago. But those hard-working scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) aren’t getting ahead of themselves; they’ll be announcing on Wednesday what they’ve found but won’t claim to have discovered anything just yet, not until much more data can be completed.

“I agree that any reasonable outside observer would say, ‘It looks like a discovery,'” British theoretical physicist John Ellis, a longtime researcher at CERN, said. “We’ve discovered something which is consistent with being a Higgs.”