What a fantastically awesome achievement.
This really is a pretty good day to be a human. It may be drizzling, bankers may be fixing interest rates and a crackhead might be urinating through your letterbox, but we’re still pushing the boundaries of knowledge and discovery to the utmost. The world owes CERN a collective pint.
Scientists have been looking for this little blighter for 50 odd years, and it’s unsurprising that you can see Peter Higgs, the man who first theorised the Higgs-Boson’s existence getting a tad teary eyed. It’s taken a monumental worldwide effort, but it has payed off.
What have they actually found?
First things first, I probably understand quantum physics worser-er than you do. But seeing as Richard Feynman (very clever bloke) once said ”If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics”, I suppose that makes me just as qualified as the next man.
The Higgs Boson has basically been the missing gap in the Standard Model of the universe for a good 50 years. People reckoned that the universe, or at least the 4% we know about, is made up of a set of elementary particles. They have weird names, and flavours, but that’s a whole can of confusing worms that is better left undisturbed.
Up until this point, we had found particles to explain things like gravity, and magnetism, but there was no real reason why some particles had mass, substance, and some didn’t.
That’s where this Higgs dealy comes in. It’s believed to be responsible for giving stuff mass, and finding it is a massive relief (pun intended).
That said, it may not be a Higgs.
What they’ve actually found, is almost certainly, a new particle of some sort. They’ve got a 5-sigma degree of certainty (which as far as I can fathom means they’re pretty damn sure) that we’re dealing with a new bit of stuff. This bit of stuff looks a bit like what they thought a Higgs would look like, but more testing will need to be done as to whether it behaves as we think it should.
Even so, we’ve found another building block of the universe, so don’t be cynical.
These things are ridiculously hard to find.
This is what impresses me the most really, the brilliant and nigh on impossible way that we can detect these utterly minuscule wisps of matter and energy.
These guys are trying to answer the biggest questions we have, by firing particles into one another at nearly the speed of light. It’s fantastic, caveman science at it peak: smash it up, see what’s left.
Not only that, but there’s the small matter of detection. The stuff they’re trying to find is so small, and hangs around for such a short while to see anything is a remarkable achievement itself. At this level, light itself is lumpy particles, you bounce them into the particles you’re trying to find and you’ll destroy them, or they’ll morph into something else. This tiny landscape is just that weird. So how awesome is it that we (or at least the very clever ones among us) are able to do things like this? It’s not a rhetorical question, because it’s fucking awesome.
What now then?
More atom smashing! A lot of work needs to be done to really uncover what this particle is and how it works, but at least we know it’s there. Makes the task slightly easier.
As for applications, quantum physics is already on it’s way to bring us awesome things like quantum computers and superconductors. One can only imagine a future where we can understand and utilise the particle that gives others mass. Something from nothing might actually become a reality. Sexy.